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Groups fight California attorney general's document demands in plastics pollution probe

Published 05/24/2024, 06:09 PM
Updated 05/24/2024, 09:35 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Bales of hard-to-recycle plastic waste are seen piled up at Renewlogy Technologies in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on May 18, 2021. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

By Clark Mindock

(Reuters) -Two chemical and plastics industry groups each filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Friday, seeking to block his attempt to force them to hand over documents as part of an ongoing probe into the plastic waste crisis.

The American Chemistry Council and Plastics Industry Association filed their lawsuits in a Washington, D.C., federal court, claiming California's Democratic top lawyer's demands have chilled their constitutional right to free speech, among other things.

The groups said they had already provided some documents on things like public newsletters and public remarks about "advanced recycling" technology, which uses a process called pyrolysis to turn hard-to-recycle plastic into fuel.

They have withheld internal documents they said contain confidential industry data and communications related to public policy and advocacy matters.

They said Bonta has abused his authority by demanding the additional documents, and are seeking an order enjoining him from taking further investigative actions against them.

Bonta's office, in an emailed response, said it is reviewing the filings and that the attorney general "remains fully committed to holding accountable the fossil fuel industry for its decades-long campaign of deception regarding the plastics crisis."

American Chemistry Council attorney Allison Starmann said in a statement that Bonta "may disagree with ACC’s political views, including our recommended policies for creating a more sustainable plastics future, but the U.S. and California constitutions protect free speech and political engagement and prohibit government officials from retaliating against the exercise of those rights."

Plastics Industry Association CEO Matt Seaholm said in a statement that the industry is investing billions of dollars in "innovative technologies" to increase recycling rates, and remains committed to working with policymakers to keep plastic out of the environment.

California launched its investigation into the oil and petrochemical industry's role in creating and exacerbating the global plastic waste crisis in April 2022. Bonta said last month his office would decide whether to sue Exxon (NYSE:XOM), a key focus of the investigation, by the summer.

California has taken similar legal actions on climate change, focusing on what the fossil fuel industry knew about that problem for decades and how it misled the public about its role.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Bales of hard-to-recycle plastic waste are seen piled up at Renewlogy Technologies in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on May 18, 2021. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

More than 90% of plastic waste globally ends up in landfills or is incinerated, according to a landmark study published in Science Advances. The U.S. recycling rate has never gone higher than 9%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A Reuters investigation found that advanced recycling projects worldwide had faced numerous delays and failures even as companies touted their success.

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