Last Thursday, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry Director of Government Affairs Kevin Sunday testified before the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversight. The hearing, entitled “The Impacts of Plastics Production and Disposal on Environmental Justice Communities,” explored the balance between commerce and conservation.
In his testimony, Sunday highlighted the importance of enacting public policy that expands opportunities for all citizens and advances sustainability while supporting economic growth. He emphasized the regressive nature of high energy prices on vulnerable communities and the paramount need for domestic energy development as a means to combat energy poverty.
Sunday outlined Pennsylvania’s significant contributions as a leading producer of energy, electricity, gas, construction materials, food, medicine, and life-sustaining products. He also noted the ongoing efforts in the Commonwealth to establish a circular economy that minimizes water and plastics waste.
“The abundant natural resources of our state have led this country through every major energy transition that has occurred in the past 165 years,” Sunday said.
Sunday stressed the importance of a robust and reliable supply of energy and life-sustaining products, as underscored by the pandemic and recent supply chain shocks. He urged policymakers to consider the economic and environmental benefits of Pennsylvania’s energy and plastics industries, which support over $24 billion in annual economic output and 55,000 jobs, and cautioned against pursuing measures that would constrain this vital sector.
“Limiting domestic output of this industry will produce negative economic and environmental costs and impacts, from raising the cost of goods and services for working families and sending more jobs overseas, to increasing global emissions and an increase in the amount of waste sent to landfills,” Sunday said.
Sunday emphasized the desire for job creation in environmental justice communities and the negative public health consequences of high unemployment. “One of the key criteria in defining an environmental justice community is the percentage of households or individuals in poverty,” Sunday said. “These communities want jobs.”
Sunday also underscored the importance of the state’s plastics and petrochemical industries in manufacturing goods including medical devices, products, vaccines, ammonia, and fertilizer. He highlighted progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the significant energy savings achieved through manufacturing goods from recycled materials. Sunday stressed that plastics remain essential in taking advantage of renewable technologies and reducing emissions.
“Plastics play a key role in renewable technologies and batteries – from light-weighting automobiles to composite components of wind turbines and solar panels, so it is all the more important that we develop strategies for their responsible use and recycling,” Sunday said.
Pennsylvania’s approach to environmental justice, according to Sunday, ensures public participation from impacted communities and produces durable permitting decisions. He urged policymakers to define clear standards that promote fairness and allow communities to thrive.
“As state and federal regulators and legislators define policy goals with respect to environmental justice, the implementation of these goals must come through clearly articulated, objective regulatory standards, established by statute and through a rulemaking process, that are applied fairly and without excessive conditioning of permits and processes.”
The PA Chamber of Business and Industry strongly supports legislative efforts to drive meaningful permitting reform and increase investment in the industry. Sunday acknowledged the bipartisan leadership of Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) and Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and their commitment to enacting permitting reforms.
Sunday maintained that Pennsylvania’s chemicals, manufacturing, and recycling sectors play a crucial role in fostering inclusive and sustainable growth. He cited examples of ongoing projects, such as the International Recycling Group’s zero landfill plastics recycling facility in Erie, Monroe Energy’s refinery in Delaware County, and Shell’s polymers manufacturing facility in southwestern Pennsylvania. These projects not only support economic development but also empower local communities through responsible environmental practices.
“We encourage a balanced discussion that recognizes the important economic benefit of our state’s energy, manufacturing, and chemical sectors as well as any environmental impacts that need to be addressed,” Sunday said.
In closing, Sunday emphasized that strength in these economic sectors is necessary for growth, food security, and energy independence. He highlighted the importance of Pennsylvanian and American-made products in meeting the challenges of climate change and supporting a growing global economy.