Technological watch

House Republican EPA budget backs chemical recycling, bioplastics, reuse

A budget from Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives that calls for sharp cuts in Environmental Protection Agency spending is also signaling support for chemical recycling, bioplastics development and reusable and refillable packaging initiatives.

The spending plan, adopted by the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee July 19, is early stages in the work for a new federal budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. With Democrats controlling the Senate and White House, what ultimately passes could be quite different.

But the House Republican plan notably includes language directing EPA to support chemical recycling, in contrast with a position the Democratic Congress took last year.

The federal budget that passed in late 2022, when Democrats controlled the chamber, had language that encouraged EPA to regulate the chemical recycling technologies of pyrolysis and gasification as municipal waste combustion, an approach favored by environmental groups.

But now, the Republican-controlled Appropriations Committee's 227-page budget report includes language more supportive of chemical recycling, and uses a term favored by plastics industry groups to describe it, advanced recycling.

"The committee recognizes the critical role plastics play in modern society," the report said. "Advanced recycling can enable more of the plastics relied upon today to be repurposed and reused. The committee encourages the agency to incorporate advanced recycling into its programs and strategies to improve collection and reuse of materials."

The budget plan also includes language around bioplastics that could have more bipartisan appeal.

After President Joe Biden's administration in March unveiled bioplastics research and developments goals as part of a larger bioeconomy R&D plan, the House Republican report would direct EPA to brief Congress on the potential of using bioplastics in government projects.

"The committee notes the potential need for dependable bio-based and U.S.-grown plastic alternatives," the report said. "Within 180 days of enactment of this Act, the committee directs the agency to provide a briefing on efforts to explore alternatives, such as United States-based hemp, and how such alternatives may be used as a cost-efficient alternative in government-produced or funded materials."

As well, the report directs EPA to do more work around reuse and refill packaging systems and notes EPA's work around recycling definitions and product labeling, a possible reference to EPA's comments to the Federal Trade Commission's Green Guides revisions.

"The committee is aware of the agency's efforts related to recycling and encourages the agency to work with stakeholders on recycling definitions and product labeling," the report said. "Additionally, the committee encourages the agency to work with stakeholders to develop effective reuse and refill systems."

The committee also said it was concerned about waste tire buildup and directs EPA to "consider the qualification of fuels produced from waste plastic or waste tires as cellulosic biofuels."

The report also directs EPA to brief Congress on textile waste within 90 days of the budget passing and to include textiles in the national recycling strategy.

It also includes provisions on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, directing EPA to develop frameworks to evaluate technologies that would destroy PFAS, prioritize research on the impact of PFAS on rural communities and have the Government Accountability Office review EPA cost estimates on its PFAS drinking water regulations.

In a statement, Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, the chair of the appropriations subcommittee for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, said the EPA budget would fall 39 percent, or by $4 billion, under the spending plans they adopted, with reductions targeting research and regulatory activity.

The committee's budget vote also included spending for the Interior Department and other environmental agencies set at $35 billion, a 10 percent drop from current levels, which Simpson said was needed to reduce budget deficits.

A coalition of 50 environmental groups including the League of Conservation Voters said the House spending plan was "dead on arrival" in the Senate because it violates a bipartisan budget agreement for the next two years that Congress and the White House reached in June.

They also criticized it for reducing EPA funding to a level seen 30 years ago and zeroing out funding for environmental justice programs.

Publication date: 25/07/2023

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This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 837761.