BOSTON — Environmentalists are urging the state to join an investigation into the oil industry into its alleged role in fueling a global plastic pollution crisis.
Last week, the California attorney general subpoenaed ExxonMobil as part of a broader investigation into whether the industry was encouraging the development of petroleum-based plastic products while minimizing harm to the environment and public health.
California AG Rob Bonta has accused Exxon of “greenwashing” the public and says it has engaged in years of unfair competition and deceptive marketing practices.
But the move prompted environmental groups in Massachusetts to ask Attorney General Maura Healey to sign off on the investigation.
Janet Domenitz, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, said more than 90% of plastic is never recycled and said the oil industry has misled consumers into “thinking we can recycle our out of this crisis.
“Plastic waste ends up clogging our landfills and polluting our environment,” she said. “Micro-plastics have been found in our blood, potentially exposing us to harmful chemicals and additives.”
Ben Hellerstein, state director of Environment Massachusetts, said marine life and natural ecosystems are paying the price for an “unchecked plastic waste crisis” that is polluting the country’s rivers and waterways.
“Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years,” Hellerstein said.
Healey, who is seeking Democratic nomination for governor, is already embroiled in a major court battle with ExxonMobil over its alleged role in the climate crisis.
In 2019, Healey filed a lawsuit against the company over allegations that it misled consumers about the threat of environmental degradation from fossil fuel consumption. The outcome of this legal challenge is pending.
In a statement, Exxon called California’s investigation “baseless” and said the company was focusing on solutions to expand large-scale recycling efforts with states.
The American Chemical Council called the survey “misguided” and said the industry “is focused on efforts to improve plastics recycling and deliver meaningful results.”
“Plastics improve the energy efficiency of our cars, reduce the heating and cooling needs of our homes, enable solar panels and wind power, and prevent food waste,” the group said.
The council said it supports efforts to require all plastic packaging in the United States by 2030 to contain at least 30% recycled plastic and to make producers responsible for packaging to help increase recycling.
In Massachusetts, environmental groups are pushing to ban single-use plastic bags and straws, and are urging lawmakers to update the state’s 40-year-old bottle drop law to recycle more glass and plastic bottles.
Massachusetts is one of 10 states, including Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont, with deposit laws. The Bay State 5-Cent Bottle Deposit was enacted in 1983 and allows redemption centers to deduct processing fees from refunds.
Environmental groups say only 42% of beverage containers sold in Massachusetts are covered by the current deposit law. They argue the updated law will stop more plastic and glass from entering regional landfills and incinerators to help the state meet its ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction goals by 2050.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.