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Betsy’s Testimony in Opposition to S.525

by Betsy La Force, Coastal Conservation League on Apr 22, 2021

This testimony was provided to WREN by Betsy La Force of the Coastal Conservation League. Betsy presented this testimony in front of the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs on April 22nd, 2021.

“Thank you, Mr Chairman and members of the subcommittee, for the opportunity to speak today. I’m Betsy La Force with the Coastal Conservation League.

It’s good to see you all again, I’ve testified before you earlier this year- virtually in February on a similar bill – H.3753 the bill dealing with advanced recycling and incineration.

I came up in person this time to put a finer point on how important this issue is to the environmental community in South Carolina.

The bill before you this morning deals with what the chemical industry is referring to as “advanced recycling.”  Which translates to superheating plastics in the absence of oxygen to convert to fuel and other materials. This is not dealing with recycling in the traditional sense of turning plastic back into plastic.

Though we already have regulations in place to allow for chemical recyclers to do business in South Carolina today, the legislation before you is seeking to place emerging plastics conversion technologies in a new umbrella category called “advanced recycling” to be regulated as manufacturing processes rather than waste management facilities, making it easier and less expensive to set up shop for a highly risky industry that has not proven to be profitable.

This bill represents a compromise passed by the Senate, but our concerns remain.

For a bit of background: the plastics industry in recent years has been making a concerted effort to pin chemical recycling as the answer to our plastic trash problem. But in reality, it is merely addressing a symptom of the plastic waste problem without getting to the root cause or the real priority – which is making less plastic waste.

Chemical industry leaders are describing ‘advanced recycling facilities’ as handling a special category of plastics in a special type of way that shouldn’t be classified or regulated as solid waste, but rather as manufacturing.

Which is particularly interesting considering the Nexus Fuels company in Atlanta that I understand some of you visited in 2019 describes themselves on the homepage of their website as a waste management and energy production company.

Proponents of this legislation are asking to be treated with the same regulation and respect as established, reputable manufacturing companies like BMW and Michelin who have spent decades honing their processes and earning the trust of the public.

We have heard promising numbers of major investments being made – $4.2 billion invested in more than 30 advanced recycling projects in the last few years – but beyond these initial investments, we have not heard about any advanced recycling businesses that have demonstrated stable financial success in the US.

The bill before you this morning has been amended to reflet some of the concerns the community has raised around the need for guardrails on this fledgling industry, but not all of them.

It still raises many red flags for South Carolina.

Which is why we are urging this committee to enforce protections for this industry we know so little about.

I’ll reiterate a few points from my prior testimony that still apply:

First – and this point cannot be stressed enough – we have laws and regulations in place for chemical recyclers to operate in South Carolina today. Regulation 61-107.2. Yet not a single applicant from this industry has done the due diligence of applying for a permit through DHEC.

The question we continue to ask ourselves is, if the chemical recycling industry is sound and the business models are successful, then why aren’t interested companies applying through DHEC to get started today and operate under our existing laws?

Perhaps it’s because potential investors are weary of assuming the financial risk of providing a bond that might have to be cashed out if something went wrong or if a facility went under.

The limited information that is publicly available around this new industry so far tells us that chemical recycling is riddled with technical, economic and environmental problems.

So it’s no wonder the efficacy of the industry is being called into question with facts like the amount of residual waste produced– 15 to 20% of the overall feedstock used in pyrolysis must be sent to the landfill  (Environmental and Economic Analysis of Emerging Plastics Conversion Technologies, commissioned by the ACC in 2012),

Or the fact that of the 37 chemical recycling facilities proposed in the US since 2000, only a few are operational and are mostly turning plastic into fossil fuels, waxes and other petroleum-based goods to be burned. Not recycling in the traditional sense of turning plastic back to high quality plastic.

Serious doubts about chemical recycling’s environmental footprint and scalability remain. Leaving us with deep concerns around this bill.

The idea behind the financial assurance amendment in this bill was well intentioned – to strike a compromise. But it does not represent a consensus and is frankly not robust enough to address the general concerns that remain with this bill.

As written, the bonding requirements to ensure DHEC has access to funding that may be necessary in the event of a facility closure are set to sunset after three years of the passage of this bill.

Three years is not enough time for this industry to get on its feet and demonstrate reliability. It’s been struggling to do so for the past 20 years.

Until we are able to confidently say that chemical recycling is a viable industry – we should be vigilant about protecting our state against serving as a guinea pig for this unproven technology. We don’t want South Carolina to serve as the dumping ground for plastic melting facilities.

Especially considering the environmental disasters South Carolina has fallen victim to from waste management projects gone wrong – like at the Able Contracting fire that burned for months in Jasper County with no financial accountability – or the Viva tire recycling facility that left mountains of mosquito infested flammable tires abandoned in Berkeley County or the fire at the plastics polymer facility in Chester that was using and storing the very types of materials pyrolysis facilities would use.

All of these examples are reminders of the importance of financial assurances.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that however closed loop the back end of these plastics’ conversion processes may be, many of the chemical components involved are toxic and there is no guarantee they couldn’t escape into the local environment if something went wrong at a facility.

How can we be assured that potential business operators wouldn’t rather wait for three years to pass and the bonding requirement to sunset before opening business in our state?

Allowing the financial assurance requirements to sunset after just three years would be inadvertently placing the burden of risk on the backs of our citizens rather than the businesses.

Wouldn’t it be better to honor the hard lessons learned from waste disasters in our state and choose to maintain and strengthen our solid waste regulations rather than weaken them?

Again, we have the regulations in place to welcome this new industry to South Carolina. Asking interested companies to follow our existing laws and put up proper financial assurance mechanisms to protect our communities is the right thing to do.

If we are going to move forward with changing the rules to make it more attractive for pyrolysis operators to do business in South Carolina, we should prioritize the protection of our communities.

If the sunset language is not eliminated completely, then at a minimum it should be extended to last 5 years to have a better chance of serving its intended purpose of safeguarding our citizens against financial and environmental risks that have been so clearly identified with this industry.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments and with that I would be happy to answer any questions you all may have.”

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