For a generation of leaders and managers in business and government, the recession is a spectacular and largely unprecedented challenge. In these troubled times of lay-offs, foreclosures and bailouts some pundits suggest the economic world will never be the same.
For the members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), one thing is clear -- policymakers, industry and the public must start playing on the same team. America needs from the new Obama administration and new Congress a public policy approach that treats the chemical industry as an asset and not a threat, an essential vehicle of change and not an obstacle, a partner and not an adversary. In turn, the industry is expected to do even more in crucial areas of chemicals management, plant security and product safety.
Last year, the $664 billion chemical industry supported 4% of the U.S. workforce including our 863,000 employees plus 4.8 million indirect jobs. Chemical products accounted for 10% of the nation's exports and touched 96% of U.S. manufactured goods. As industry plant closings make headlines, the numbers next year likely will reflect reduced production, lower sales, fewer jobs and diminished exports.
Restoring the economy and shoring up our industry's global position will require greater cooperation between government and industry. Yet, in the face of economic upheaval, the industry's public policy goals for tomorrow are very much those of today. What's different today is not what we seek, but how urgently we need it.
We must partner with the new administration and Congress to achieve these essential goals:
Energy and Climate Change -- America Needs a 21st Century Energy Policy
The dramatic swings in energy prices over the last two years, and the rise in energy prices over the last decade, are proof positive that America needs a comprehensive national energy plan that will continue to increase energy efficiency and conservation, promote alternative and renewable technologies and expand access to domestic energy supplies.
While energy is crucial to the chemical industry, the business of chemistry is essential to the nation's efforts to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Chemistry makes possible the next generation of energy-saving products including building insulation, lightweight vehicle parts, solar panels, wind turbines, compact fluorescent light bulbs, low rolling resistance tires, automotive and industrial lubricants, thermal roof coatings, energy-efficient appliances and much more.
The industry and Washington already work together to achieve meaningful policy changes that advance energy and climate goals. Now, we must do even more.
Chemical Plant Security -- Time for Permanent Standards
ACC and member companies are committed to safeguarding America's chemical facilities. To date, members have invested more than $6 billion in security enhancements, and we worked with Congress and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to establish national, risk-based chemical security regulations (CFATS or Chemical Facility Anti-terrorism Standards). Under those rules, facilities that use or store chemicals must meet specific security obligations and the federal government can shut down facilities that do not comply.
Looking ahead, we will work with Congress to make the CFATS system permanent. We know a strong federal role is necessary to attain homeland security and here too, we continue to be part of the team.
Freight Rail Reform -- A Quest for Fairness
Chemical companies, their customers, and many other industries depend on railroads to provide reliable and competitive service. We need a strong freight rail system. Unfortunately, ACC members and other shippers face exorbitant and unpredictable rail transportation costs and poor service, the result of an outdated and broken freight rail policy structure that shield railroads from fully competing with one another.
ACC believes Congress must pass reform legislation to promote competitive rail service, end rail monopolies and restore a healthy, reliable, competitively-priced freight-rail system.
Chemical Regulation -- Quality Decisions Require Quality Science
Many products of chemistry are under public attack, the result of misunderstood science, the politics of fear and significantly, industry's failure to convince the public that its products are safe for their intended use. But proposed product bans reflect neither good science nor good policy.
Under ACC's Responsible Care program, member companies implement appropriate management and product stewardship systems that reduce the risks of chemicals to human health and the environment. Our companies invest more than $14 billion per year in health, safety and environmental efforts and $26 billion per year on research and development, and we are not resting on our laurels.
As a parent, I want to protect the health and safety of our children. ACC recognizes we need improvements that incorporate industry performance, sound science and public accountability. Sound science especially must be the foundation for effective chemical regulation. The chemical industry must produce accurate data on which to base regulations but the U.S. EPA must have final authority to decide if a chemical is safe for its intended use. ACC must work with government and nongovernmental organizations to develop a clear consensus about scientific criteria and assure the quality of industry's science.
As the New Year begins, it is unclear if the chemical industry is facing a "whole new ballgame." Rest assured, we are working hard to sustain our legions of workers, while building a more inclusive team with the new cadre of lawmakers coming to Washington, D.C. -- because new game or old, that's what it will take to win.
Cal Dooley is CEO and president of the Arlington, Va.-based American Chemistry Council, which represents major chemical manufacturers. http://www.americanchemistry.com