When it comes to curbing ocean plastic pollution, what do you think is the best route forward?
Plastic pollution in the ocean and along the coastline is a major problem for Californians—it costs taxpayers and local governments money to clean it up, and it can discourage tourism. The U.S. EPA found that California’s coastal cities and counties spend about $420 million annually to clean up marine debris. But plastic product litter doesn’t just damage California’s economy, it hurts marine life. In 2012, 663 species of marine animals either got entangled in plastic products or ingested them—a two-thirds increase in species from 1998.
This year I introduced legislation that would have required producers of the most commonly found marine plastic pollution to help address the problem they helped create. Since producers are in the best position to redesign products and packaging to create less waste, as well as to boost recycling and collection, I believe it’s reasonable and necessary to require them to do so. Unfortunately, that bill couldn’t muster the required votes to pass this year. Substantial policy questions like this can take some time to be successful. It also takes extensive efforts to educate policy makers on the significance of the problem and the value of the solution. These efforts are far from over. Similarly, legislation that would have restricted single-use plastic bags failed passage in the Senate. Clearly, it will be difficult to pass comprehensive legislation that will reduce harmful plastic pollution at the state level. Nevertheless, as Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Coastal Protection, I will continue to fight for such policies here and investigate potential solutions.
While the state has lagged in this area, local governments are increasing their efforts to reduce plastic pollution. Several major coastal counties have adopted plastic bag ordinances. I’m pleased to report that our district is ahead of the curve in this area, with similar ordinance adoptions by the cities of Santa Cruz, Capitola, Carmel, Monterey, and San Jose, as well as the counties of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara. Even more governments in our area, including Monterey County, are well on their way to passing similar ordinances.
California has led the nation in identifying and reducing toxic substance exposure to its residents. What are your thoughts on the federal debate about creating a national policy on harmful chemicals?
I join Sen. Barbara Boxer, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and a host of California elected officials in wholeheartedly denouncing the congressional effort to sidestep robust state laws protecting Californians from harmful chemicals. The Chemical Safety and Improvement Act includes broad preemption provisions that prevent states from acting to address risks of potentially toxic substances. This week I introduced a resolution to urge the President and Congress to object to the current version of the act.
Time and again, California voters have expressed their desire for policies that require transparency about chemicals in consumer products, as well as vigorous evaluation of risk and firm restrictions on verified toxic substances. This federal effort is clearly a blatant attempt to circumvent the strong protections that California voters approved.
Several California laws are at risk. In 1986, California voters overwhelmingly passed The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act through Proposition 65 in order to decrease California’s exposure to toxic substances known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm by requiring labeling of consumer products containing these toxic substances. In 2008, the Legislature passed legislation establishing the Green Chemistry Program, in order to decrease California’s exposure to toxic substances by identifying and prioritizing chemicals of concern and evaluating safer alternatives to toxic chemicals through a science-based approach. Key components of these landmark laws would be invalidated by the federal legislation.