INSIDE VIEW ‘10: Industry faces calls for tougher regulations

29 December 2009 21:56  [Source: ICIS news]

By Joe Acker
Society of Chemical Manufactures and Affiliates (SOCMA)

Editor’s note: US chemical industry association leaders were given the opportunity to express their views on the challenges and opportunities for 2010.

WASHINGTON -- With the US economy still in flux and calls for tougher industry regulations growing louder, the Society of Chemical Manufactures and Affiliates (SOCMA) is working with its diverse membership of small and mid-sized chemical companies to meet the challenges ahead.

While the first half of the year was tougher for batch, custom and specialty chemical manufacturers, we are encouraged by the growth we witnessed in the third and fourth quarters.

Once the economy started to level off, some members began taking steps to position themselves for growth opportunities down the road. Although some remain concerned the economy will revert back to 2008 levels, SOCMA expects this slow growth to continue in the coming year.

Our overarching goal is to ensure that the business climate for small and medium-sized batch chemical producers is a positive one that fosters innovation and creates opportunities for growth. A growing number of companies are multinational focused and SOCMA’s participation in major industry events around the world, including its upcoming Gala in Mumbai, India, will help enhance their business opportunities.

For too long, we have seen chemical manufacturing jobs moved offshore to lower cost regions of the world, often times at the expense of quality and also environmental and safety performance. The Administration’s renewed focus on manufacturing will hopefully lead to the development of policies and strategies that will support the expansion of manufacturing operations in the US.

SOCMA will continue to work closely with the Administration to address issues that impact international competitiveness of the chemical industry, such as trade agreements, access to skilled workers, energy resources, R&D tax credits and other tax burdens.

The Legislative and Regulatory Front

With the new Administration now firmly in place, we expect a continuation of the aggressive approaches regulatory agencies are taking toward the chemical industry. Additionally, we will continue to meet regularly with Republicans and Democrats in both Houses of Congress, to ensure they fully understand the consequences of proposed legislation on our industry.

This year, the House of Representatives passed new and stringent standards for chemical site security that SOCMA actively opposed. SOCMA members are concerned that Congress minimizes the complexity of chemistry when it comes to proposals mandating product substitution in the name of security and will continue to voice their opposition as the bill moves through the Senate.

House members also met several times this year to discuss efforts to modify the decades-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Testifying before Congress last month, SOCMA said it agrees that the statute can be modernized and that policy goals can be accomplished in a way that doesn’t devastate an industry that is already fighting recession and foreign competition. In the coming months, SOCMA expects EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to further define how it will update TSCA and we will make sure that our concerns continue to be represented at the senior levels.

Due to the likelihood of several key industry priorities expected to move through one or both chambers in Congress, including chemical site security, TSCA reform and international trade bills, grassroots advocacy among SOCMA members will continue to increase in 2010.

Importance of Grassroots Advocacy

SOCMA will step up its efforts to influence proposed rules and legislation by advocating sound science as the basis for regulation and by working to promote responsible alternatives to costly and misguided policies.

SOCMA members this year actively engaged their elected officials through our grassroots initiatives in Washington, in their facilities, in Congressional districts in their state, and - importantly- virtually. As a result, numerous new relationships have been established between our members and their elected officials, which for a few SOCMA members resulted in favorable votes on key pieces of legislation this year.

Also, like many in the industry, SOCMA members will be closely watching the mid-term elections for their impact on our industry for 2011 and beyond.

Green Chemistry & Performance Improvement

Our efforts to work with multiple stakeholders to develop and establish consistent, science-based approaches to evaluating the greenness of chemicals will also continue in 2010.

There are many different definitions of green chemistry, and chemists and engineers prefer consistent and systematic approaches. Green chemistry follows the same fundamental principles of physics and has been practiced in the chemical industry for years.

In order to successfully move academic green chemistry toward more commercial green chemistry we must reach common ground in our approaches while avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach, especially for small and mid-sized manufacturers.

In the coming months, our members will assist in defining it for makers of batch, custom and specialty chemicals.  Our continuous improvement program, ChemStewards, will incorporate green chemistry principles into its performance metrics to help members track important benchmarks.

The Road Ahead

As we well know, with every challenge, there is also opportunity.

Our industry must embrace the changes ahead with optimism; continue reaching out to the decision-makers in Washington, and commit to working with them while also being true to the ideals that define our industry: ingenuity, innovation, and integrity.

Working together, our efforts will go a long way in demonstrating our leadership as joint partners in securing the future of our plants, our workers, and our communities.

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

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