The U.S. midterm elections resulted in Democrats narrowly maintaining control of the Senate and Republicans gaining a slender majority in the House. The Biden administration will face a divided government in 2023, the unofficial start into the presidential election cycle in 2024.
America Recycles Day, Tuesday, Nov. 15, is a day for Americans to be reminded of the importance of recycling in their communities. ISRI Chief Lobbyist Billy Johnson speaks about ISRI’s plans for the event and how the association will continue to advocate for recycling no matter who controls Congress or the White House.
Q: Now that the midterms are over—although ballots may be counted and recounted in some states—what’s next for ISRI on Capitol Hill?
Johnson: The big thing for [ISRI] members to keep in mind is that we work with Congress no matter the party. Sometimes you find that the party you think is going to be helpful [to recycling] isn’t. Sometimes the one that you don’t think is going to be immensely helpful turns out to be extremely helpful. When ISRI polls, we find that the public likes recycling very much; they want to do it. That public opinion translates very well into Congress.
Over the past several years, we’ve seen a lot of legislation focusing on how to improve primarily residential recycling. I would assume that in the next Congress, regardless of whoever controls it, recycling will be a big issue. There’s going to be a lot of new things going on with electric vehicles (EVs) and EV battery recycling. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for ISRI to engage with Congress.
Q: Republicans are going to control the House, they’ll control committee chairmanships, and thus the legislative agenda. What does that mean, as far as the White House agenda … for regulation of the recycled materials industry?
Johnson: With [Republicans] taking over either house [of Congress], that pretty much cancels out the White House’s agenda. I think that the margins will be very slim; it’ll be exceedingly difficult for the Republicans to get things passed. But on the other side, it’ll be impossible for the Democrats to pass things and get them to the White House.
The Senate has been evenly divided. [Vice President Kamala Harris] gets to be the tiebreaker vote, which gives the Democrats that 51 [vote majority]. That also means the Democrats control all the [Senate] committees. In the House under Republican control, [Republicans] will drive all the committees, they’ll have all the chairmanships, and that means they determine what bills get addressed, what bills go to the floor, and what bills get passed.
One of the important things to remember is that the party that controls the Senate controls not just oversight and investigations: They get to either confirm or block nominations—not just nominations to the federal judiciary, but to the Environmental Protection Agency and every other federal government agency, commission, board—everything that has a regulatory function to it at all, they can block it.
Without the people in the jobs, [regulators] don’t have the constitutional authority to issue many rules and regulations. So, it’s not just the legislative agenda that stops [with divided government]; it’s the regulatory agenda that really gets slowed down. That’s why the first two years of a presidential administration is such an important time to throw as much stuff at the wall as possible, in case the inevitable happens, and you lose control of one or both of the chambers in Congress, effectively at that moment, you’re over for two years.
Q: What will ISRI be doing this year on America Recycles Day, Nov. 15, to raise awareness of our industry?
Johnson: In past years, ISRI has done a congressional program, bouncing back and forth between the House and the Senate. Because of COVID, and Congress being basically closed to the public, we don’t get to go up to Capitol Hill and host a big briefing and reception. We’re hoping to get back into that in 2023. This year, we will continue with our program where we will interview and have several members of Congress, primarily senators, make some remarks about how much recycling means to them. We will ask senators to reflect on all the legislation that has happened in the last two years, as well as to look into their crystal ball and tell us what they think they’re going to try to do in the next two years to help advance recycling.
The nice thing about the recycling caucus is that members of Congress join it because they want to. It’s very voluntary. Those who join have a commitment and a passion, not just for the environment, but also for recycling and all the good things that recycling does, like returning materials back into the global manufacturing supply chain.
The fun part of lobbying on Capitol Hill is that you get to explain that circle; how your car will come back through recycling as a bridge. Plus, the importance of all the energy savings, the natural resource preservation, and environmental benefits. When members of Congress get in front of [the caucus] they’re old friends because this is the one issue and the one industry they all can agree on.
Q: You’ve helped a lot of ISRI members organize tours for lawmakers of their recycling facilities, which really helps the industry through showing it off to those who write the laws. Will we hear from you on America Recycles Day?
Johnson: First I’ll tell you about the facility tours, I’ve given a bunch of them and seeing is believing. I can go up and talk to a member of Congress 100 times; it’s nothing like five minutes in a recycling facility, to see the materials coming in and to understand where they’re going. In addition to facility tours, coming to Washington and meeting with your members of Congress, going to the state capitols and meeting your state legislators and the regulators we recognize they really don’t know that much about what you do.
When they do find out and they get to know you, they really like [recycling] even more. The more they get to know you and the more they see you and interact with you and learn more about job creation as well as all the environmental benefits of recycling, the more ISRI members have a voice.