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California launches probe into global plastic pollution, subpoenas ExxonMobil

California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Thursday subpoenaed ExxonMobil as part of an investigation into the role fossil fuel and petrochemical companies played in global plastics pollution. File Photo by Katherine Welles/Shutterstock.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Thursday subpoenaed ExxonMobil as part of an investigation into the role fossil fuel and petrochemical companies played in global plastics pollution. File Photo by Katherine Welles/Shutterstock.

April 28 (UPI) -- California on Thursday announced an investigation into the alleged role the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries played in causing and exacerbating global plastics pollution.

Rob Bonta, California's attorney general, said his office has subpoenaed Exxon Mobil as part of the investigation seeking information about the company's "role in deceiving the public" and worsening plastic pollution.

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"This first-of-its-kind investigation will examine the fossil fuel industry's role in creating and exacerbating the plastics pollution crisis -- and what laws, if any, have been broken in the process," Bonta said.

Fossil fuel and petrochemical companies engaged in an "aggressive" and "deceptive" campaign beginning in the 1980s to lead the public to believe they could mitigate plastic pollution by recycling, a claim the companies knew was not true, in order to combat bills from state legislatures and local governments to ban plastics, Bonta said.

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"For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis," Bonta said. "The truth is: The vast majority of plastics cannot be recycled."

Bonta noted that plastic does not fully degrade, breaking down into smaller pieces called microplastics that have been found in drinking water, food and air, citing a 2019 study by the World Wildlife Foundation the average person may be ingesting "a credit cards' worth of plastic" every week.

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He also cited the impact of plastic pollution on wildlife, with plastic-related wildlife deaths in the state documented as early as the 1970s.

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The state's investigation drew praise from environmental organizations such as Greenpeace.

"For too long corporate polluters have been allowed to mislead the public and harm people and the plant. The science has become crystal clear that we must move away from fossil fuels and throwaway plastic," said Graham Forbes, plastics global campaign lead for Greenpeace USA said. "It is encouraging to see the state of California stand up to the fossil fuel industry. Hopefully, this is a sign that policymakers are ready to start holding corporations accountable."

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