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In first hearing as subcommittee chair, Pingree puts focus on ocean pollution

The virtual Interior and Environment Subcommittee hearing focused on reducing marine plastic pollution

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — It was a day of firsts for Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree. The U.S. congresswoman held her first hearing as the Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies on Thursday. 

Pingree and members of the subcommittee questioned and had conversations with three industry experts. The focus of the hearing was to figure out best practices to reduce marine plastic pollution on the state, national, and global scale.

The three witnesses, or panelists, were Winnie Lau, the senior manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts preventing ocean plastics project; Ginger Spencer, the public works director for the City of Phoenix, Arizona; and Nicole Collier, the senior director of corporate affairs at Nestlé USA.

In her opening statement, Pingree addressed her concerns about ocean pollution especially considering the ocean is crucial to Maine's economy. 

“The marine plastic pollution problem is global in scope. It becomes worse each year and becomes increasingly devastating in its consequences," Pingree said. "Addressing it will require coordinated response from governments, the private sector, and nongovernment stakeholders."

Spencer told the committee about the success Phoenix has had in recent years adopting and investing in recycling infrastructure. In her testimony, she said the city is working to meet its "Zero Waste" goal by 2050.

"To achieve these ambitious diversion goals locally and nationally, it takes investment, partnerships, time, and effort," Spencer added. 

There were mentions about embracing a circular economy, the idea of manufacturers designing products to be reusable, which would help eliminate single-use plastics. 

"But unless we substantially increase the ambition and scale the problem will only grow worse as pollution growth outpaces solutions," Pingree said.

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"Single-use items and packaging present a particular challenge to effective waste management, leading to mismanagement and environmental pollution," Lau added.

In her testimony, Lau said a fundamental system change is needed to help solve this plastic pollution problem. To do that, she said we need to prioritize when plastic products are used, eliminate unnecessary plastic, prioritize recycling, and close the loop by maximizing the use of reusable materials.

"Using technologies and approaches that exist today, annual ocean plastic pollution could be reduced by 80 percent in the next 20 years, from 29 million metric tons to 5 million metric tons per year," she said.

All three witnesses asked Pingree and the other committee members to continue to provide federal funding to this issue as the country looks to solve this pollution problem.

"Finally, federal government has a key role to play both domestically and internationally, and most importantly we are currently on the wrong trajectory," Pingree said.

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