Pacific Protection

The state’s California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) today released its long-awaited comprehensive action plan to reduce marine debris and protect the $46 billion annual coastal economy.  The report makes many far-ranging recommendations, including banning plastic bags and Styrofoam food packaging, banning smoking on the beach, setting up fees for plastic trash, tackling the derelict fishing gear problem, increasing fines for littering, and reducing or eliminating toxics in plastics that end up in the ocean.  It also urges extended producer responsibility programs, like they have for car batteries where the manufacturers or sellers of an item have to take it back. All great stuff. However, what the report doesn’t do is an even larger concern.

All in all, the report covers nearly all of the bases in the resolution that Heal the Bay helped craft and Lt. Governor Garamendi pushed through the OPC in January 2007. Clearly, the plan should give bills like AB 2058 (Levine, Davis and Brownley’s plastic bag fee bill) and SB 899 (Simitian’s derelict fishing gear bill) a boost at just the right time, when they are stuck in appropriations committees. 

Yet, the report does NOT include recommendations for these bills or for bills needed to implement the far-reaching bans suggested. The report does not include timelines for task completion or time frames and milestones to reach the goal of eliminating land sources of marine debris, which make up over 80% of the ocean’s trash problem. The report does not include funding targets. The recommendations for extended producer responsibility are great, but there are no suggestions on what the program would apply to. (Batteries and computers are one thing, cigarette butts and chip bags are another.) It doesn’t describe how the enforcement system would be set up.

Increased litter fines sound good, but the real problem is that bagging polluters has never been a high priority for law enforcement. Green chemistry is all the rage in California, so the call to eliminate toxics in products that make up the majority of marine debris makes sense, but when will the toxic chemicals be identified and will they be banned or will it be another failed voluntary effort?  Trusting the American Chemistry Council to do the right thing after watching its lobbying efforts on BPA bans in baby toys doesn’t make much sense.

The report gives the environmental community a major tool in its ongoing efforts to eliminate marine debris. But the OPC  must put some teeth in the report if it is serious about keeping trash out of our oceans and stormdrains.

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