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Senators Call for Increased Action on Ocean Plastic Pollution

July 21, 2020, 10:30 PM

Senators on Tuesday emphasized bipartisan, global support for addressing the world’s ocean plastic pollution, even though the U.S. isn’t part of an international treaty devoted to the issue.

“There’s a lot we do agree upon and getting plastics out of the ocean should be something we can come together on,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-N.C.), chairman of the Appropriations State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee, during a hearing.

Graham suggested the U.S. might join the Basel Convention if it were changed. The convention is an international treaty established in 1992, which limits developed countries from shipping hazardous waste to less developed countries. All but two countries, the U.S. and Haiti, are parties to the convention.

“We need to get in the game here,” Graham said.

The Trump administration doesn’t have a view on joining, said Jonathan Moore, principal deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

But Moore did said changes to the Basel Convention that took effect this year would make it more difficult for the U.S. to export its waste.

The changes require countries that export mixed or contaminated plastic waste to obtain prior informed consent from importing countries. They’re intended to give poorer countries the right to refuse waste shipments that can end up being poorly managed and can harm people’s health and the environment.

The U.S. signed the Basel Convention in 1990 but never ratified it.

Bipartisan Support

If pollution continues at current levels, the weight of ocean plastic will outweigh fish by 2050, said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), cosponsor of the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act (S. 1982) with Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), aimed at strengthening U.S. efforts to combat marine debris. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate in January and is currently under consideration in the House.

The 2018 iteration of the Save Our Seas Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump, and Sullivan said during the hearing that Trump is “quite motivated” on these issues.

But Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said the U.S. isn’t in a position to lead on the issue.

“When it happens that all the other countries in the world join [the Basel Convention] and then they make rules and we’re not a part of it, then we’ve got problems,” said Udall, who doesn’t sit on the subcommittee but weighed in, given his sponsorship of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (S. 5845),

The portion of the U.S. Agency for International Development annual budget allocated to carry out waste-reduction projects globally is only a “worrying” $12 million, said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

Both Leahy and Graham suggested doubling or even tripling that amount.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexandra Yetter in Washington at ayetter@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at gHenderson@bloombergindustry.com

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