Sen. Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and a sponsor of industry-supported recycling bills, said Monday that he will not seek reelection for a fifth term.
Carper, D-Del., will stay in his seat until the end of his current term in January 2025. He is the co-chair of the Senate Recycling Caucus. He is also the sponsor of the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act and co-sponsor of the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act of 2023, two bills that have garnered strong support from the recycling and waste industry.
“Passage of both bills would be a great way to honor his legacy,” said Jesse Maxwell, advocacy and safety senior manager of the Solid Waste Association of North America, in an email.
During a speech on Monday announcing his retirement, Carper said implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act and the 2021 infrastructure law will be among his top priorities in coming months. The two laws, which have recycling infrastructure and waste implications, are “indispensable if we are ultimately to win the battle against global warming while creating tens of millions of American jobs in the years to come,” he said.
Billy Johnson, chief lobbyist of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, said Carper’s longtime commitment to recycling initiatives is part of a broader effort to fight pollution and climate change.
“Senator Carper is a ‘true believer’ in the power of recycling to improve the environment, grow the economy, create great jobs, and preserve natural resources for future generations,” he said in a statement.
President Joe Biden also recognized Carper’s environmental work during his decades in office. “His leadership has been vital to progress we’ve made in Delaware and across America to protect public lands and waters, and to fight the existential threat of climate change,” he said in a statement.
Carper’s retirement will change the leadership of the Environment and Public Works Committee. If Democrats retain the Senate majority after the 2024 election, sources familiar with the committee think Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., could be a possible option to take over as chairman due to his work on environmental and climate issues. Whitehouse was a lead sponsor of the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, which included plastic waste prevention provisions and local recycling and waste management funding
Whitehouse is next in seniority on the committee after Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., who is seen as a less likely candidate for the lead role because his focus is often on other committees. Sanders does not attend the EPW meetings as frequently as Whitehouse.
“Even without Senator Carper as chairman, the EPW Committee has many members with a demonstrated interest in waste and recycling issues,” Maxwell said.
The committee’s ranking Republican member, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, cosponsors the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act of 2023 along with Senate Recycling Caucus co-chair Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
Other EPW members with notable waste and recycling engagement include Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.
Merkley, who is known for supporting plastic waste prevention efforts, was a key cosponsor of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act in 2021 and the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act in 2022. Lummis recently introduced a bill meant to help protect solid waste management facilities from liability claims if the U.S. EPA designates certain PFAS compounds as hazardous substances.