Inside View '11: Congress to be more pragmatic on chem regs

31 December 2010 19:00  [Source: ICIS news]

SOCMA president and CEO Lawrence SloanBy Lawrence D. Sloan
President & CEO
Society of Chemical Manufacturers 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 2011.

WASHINGTON DC --The new year marks the 90th year that the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) has served as the voice of a very specialised sector of the industry. Not only do we advocate for batch, custom and specialty chemical manufacturers, but also many small- and mid-sized companies, all of which have unique needs that only SOCMA can credibly represent. For 90 years, our advocacy has made SOCMA synonymous with these companies.

Next year also marks an important new beginning for Congress. With more than 115 new faces in the House and Senate, SOCMA will be spending much of the coming year meeting with the newly-elected freshman class, educating them on issues of critical importance to small- and mid-size batch chemical manufacturers.

Undoubtedly, the economic recovery, and specifically job creation strategies, will be among the top priorities for the 112th Congress as Washington tries to revive the faltering economy. Therefore, our overarching message next year is simple: For SOCMA members, many of whom are slowly beginning to expand operations and staff, any legislation that passes must not hinder our members’ ability to remain innovative and globally competitive.

The Legislative and Regulatory Front

Overall, SOCMA expects the next Congress to take a much more pragmatic approach than the 111th Congress when considering legislation that aims at further regulating the chemical industry. Fortunately, SOCMA’s position on the industry’s major priorities is in line with the prevailing view of the new Congressional majority set to convene 5 January.  We recognise, however, that some of our industry’s top priorities, such as long-term extension of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) and reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) will be much lower priorities for the next Congress. Nevertheless, both issues will re-emerge in some form, and SOCMA will be as prepared as ever to discuss with lawmakers a pragmatic path forward.

SOCMA shares the belief with many stakeholders that there are several challenges in modernising US chemicals policy. Ensuring the safety of chemicals is important and must always remain a shared responsibility between industry and government.  Looking ahead, Congress needs to conduct a thorough review of TSCA and continue to seek SOCMA's perspective for a risk-based approach for which we have consistently advocated in congressional testimony and elsewhere.

This year, congressional committees in both the House and Senate passed draconian legislation that is heavily slanted in favour of non-governmental organisations and contains onerous provisions that are, quite frankly, impossible to enforce and would ultimately result in the demise of the US chemical industry as we know it. We expect that House Republicans will temper the legislation and effectively balance protection against harmful exposure to industrial chemicals without tying our members’ hands from being able to remain the most innovative companies in the world.

On the issue of site security, we were pleased to see a key Senate committee unanimously approve a three-year extension of the current chemical security rules spearheaded by a bipartisan group of senators led by Senator Susan Collins (Republican-Maine). This outcome has provided us with much momentum going into the new Congress as we continue to push for a permanent reauthorisation for CFATS and oppose any effort to impose product substitution mandates disguised as “safer” technology.  We will work with the new House Homeland Security Committee Chairman, Peter King, as well as others, to make this a reality.

SOCMA also will continue its leading role to promote international trade, such as urging our partners in Congress to approve the Obama administration’s free trade agreement with South Korea. We will focus our efforts on identifying global regions where technical barriers to trade exist. Such information can empower our members to make smarter investment decisions within the global marketplace. We also will work with our allies in Congress to improve the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill process to make it more efficient and fairer, particularly for small and medium enterprises which lack the resources of bigger chemical companies. 

Importance of Grass-roots Advocacy

Given the influx of new lawmakers in Congress and a new, shortened calendar for members of the House that allows them to spend more time in their home districts, SOCMA will be stepping up its grass-roots activities on the state and national levels. The association will be rolling out a new campaign, entitled “112 in the 112th by 2012”, which takes advantage of the new House philosophy by involving 112 SOCMA members in meetings on Capitol Hill or at their facilities within the next two years. For our industry’s message on jobs and innovation to succeed, members of Congress need to listen to those who are responsible for making payrolls and the investments that grow the economy.

We have had tremendous success over the past several years in increasing the level of engagement between SOCMA members and their elected officials and expect to build further on this success in the year ahead.

Green Chemistry

In light of the heightened regulatory environment and the growing emphasis on green chemistry, the inclusion of more stringent stewardship and sustainability principles into the chemical manufacturing process has become inevitable.

The state of California, with its Green Chemistry Initiative, is planning to implement its safer consumer products regulation. The Federal Trade Commission recently introduced revisions to its “Green Guides” to help provide guidance to marketers.  Meanwhile, SOCMA is working to integrate more “green metrics” into its continuous improvement programme, ChemStewards which will help members track important benchmarks and make them eligible for SOCMA’s new Sustainability Award. Based on information from members thus far, we anticipate the majority of ChemStewards participants to report on these metrics in 2011. On 18 May 2011, SOCMA will host an environmental, health, safety and security conference in Houston, Texas, which will explore important topics to the specialty chemical industry, including sustainability metrics.

The Road Ahead

While there will be a degree of uncertainty in the coming months as the new Congress takes hold, SOCMA and its members will remain engaged on all fronts. We look forward to sharing our perspectives on TSCA reform and CFATS reauthorisation, among other issues, and expect the political environment in the next Congress to heed our message.   

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