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People vs. Plastic

climate change

More groups urge regulation of petrochemical industry’s threat to communities, oceans and our climate

A growing movement is demanding the federal government better regulate pollution from plastic-making plants. People are waking up to the dangers of plastics production, which turns our oversupply of fracked gas into throwaway plastics that fill our oceans and pollute our communities.

More than 360 community and conservation organizations signed onto a legal petition I authored and submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Dec. 3. The petition demands strict new air-pollution standards for petrochemical plants that make plastic.

It follows a similar petition my Center for Biological Diversity colleagues submitted in July, demanding updated water pollution rules for these plants. That one was signed onto by more than 270 groups. Together these petitions seek to finally put reasonable federal controls on fossil fuel and petrochemical companies that plan to spend almost $200 billion to steeply increase U.S. plastic production over the next decade.

That plastics boom would increase dangerous air and water pollution in poor Gulf Coast and Appalachian communities where people are already being made sick by other industrial pollution — just to create mountains of new plastic we don’t need. It’s estimated that by 2050, plastic will outweigh fish in the sea. That’s madness on an industrial scale.

The plastics crisis is the climate crisis. That’s why we filed our latest petition as the COP25 international climate conference was getting underway. We wanted to highlight the major, growing role plastic production plays in fueling the climate crisis. It’s the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, on pace to overtake carbon pollution from transportation .

But it was an unexpected coincidence that, just as we were gathering outside the EPA office in San Francisco, a federal judge in Texas was approving a $50 million settlement to address Formosa Plastics’ rampant pollution of Texas waterways with billions of plastic pellets.

Despite Formosa’s horrendous Texas pollution, the company is in the final stages of permitting for a massive proposed petrochemical complex in St. James Parish, Louisiana. The plant would be one of the biggest polluters in the South, discharging its waste right into the Mississippi River as it flows down into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening wildlife and seafood with plastic pollution.

It would also emit more than 13 million tons of greenhouse gases a year — the equivalent of three coal-fired power plants.

Formosa’s plastic-making plant would be adjacent to residential neighborhoods in the heart of Cancer Alley, where industrial factories have created some of the worst air pollution in the country and caused serious health problems for residents. This project would single-handedly triple toxic air pollution in the region.

That’s why it’s so urgent for EPA and Congress to take swift and decisive action to protect the health of the public and the planet from the petrochemical industry and its plastic pollution. Despite the imminent threats from this rapidly expanding industry, many of the air- and water-pollution regulations haven’t been updated in decades.

These plants are allowed to emit hundreds of tons of toxic and carcinogenic pollutants every year, including butadiene, acetaldehyde, benzene and formaldehyde — pollutants known to cause respiratory, developmental, neurological and other health impairments.

The Clean Air Act calls for regulations to reflect the latest air-pollution monitoring and control technologies, just as the Clean Water Act calls for updated pollution controls. But petrochemical plants continue to spew dangerous pollutants into the air and water around them.

This plastic boom also encourages the U.S fracking boom that’s spewing the most potent greenhouse gas, methane, into our atmosphere, polluting groundwater supplies with toxic fluid, and triggering waves of earthquakes.

Plastic production fuels climate chaos at every step of the process. So we’re asking for the plants themselves to be powered by renewable energy — the very least this industry can do to reduce its impacts. The Environmental Protection Agency needs to start protecting the environment instead of fossil fuel industry profits. We need to choose people over plastic.


This story was originally published by Lauren Packard,



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