INSIDE VIEW: Chemical industry must engage across the board

04 March 2014 17:00  [Source: ICIS news]

Lawrence SloanEditor’s note: Lawrence Sloan delivered the following remarks on Tuesday at the GlobalChem conference. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent those of ICIS.

By Lawrence Sloan, President & CEO
Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates

As most of you know, SOCMA (the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates) is the only U.S.-based trade association dedicated solely to the specialty chemical industry. For more than 90 years, we have represented a diverse membership of small, medium and large manufacturers that are among the most innovative in the U.S. and the world.  The products our members make are essential to the life, health, protection, and well-being of people everywhere. In short, making life work the way we need it to is our industry specialty.

For more than 20 years, SOCMA and the American Chemistry Council have proudly co-hosted GlobalChem as a major resource to the industry. This conference is the premier chemical regulations forum that attracts the industry’s brightest leaders who are expected to stay on top of an ever changing regulatory landscape. 

We have a fantastic turnout this year, and I want to thank each of you for attending. I also want to thank this year’s GlobalChem sponsors who make this conference possible. They are Beveridge & Diamond, Steptoe and Johnson, and Verdant Law. Additionally, I’d like to thank Technology Sciences Group for their generosity in sponsoring yesterday’s pre-conference workshop. Your support helps ensure the success of this conference.

Chemistry touches every aspect of our lives. From pharmaceuticals to cosmetics, soaps to plastics, and all manner of industrial products, our industry supports virtually every other type of manufacturing in the world. Furthermore, those of you in the room are employed by companies that pay some of the highest salaries to some of the highest skilled workers in one of the safest industries in the American manufacturing sector. We have such a good story to tell and are the envy of our global competitors. And yet, sadly, when outliers in our industry experience a tragic incident, our industry is thrust into the media spotlight with the kind of headlines we neither want nor deserve. They remind us that we actually have more work to do. Today more than ever, we must continue to work closely with all levels of government as well as with our supply chain partners to ensure that our workers are safe, the surrounding communities in which we operate are safe, our downstream customers are safe, and the environment in which we operate remains free from pollutants

My college studies in chemical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, from which I am proud to have earned a Bachelor's degree, and my subsequent work as a process engineer have instilled in me a profound appreciation for how serious the chemical industry is about chemical risk management and designing plants with redundant safety factors. Admittedly, studying chemical engineering certainly didn't make me the most popular guy on campus or allow me to pick my courses by time of day, but I can say it was around this time in my life that I learned a very important lesson: avoid conversations on politics, religion, and of course… thermodynamics. 

The point is: You all deserve a lot of credit for the great work that you do. It is a fact that our industry’s manufacturing operations are more complex than the myriad of regulations that govern them.  You have a large task and you do it well.

I must also acknowledge the public-private partnership we currently enjoy with this administration. When Gina McCarthy visited with SOCMA’s Environment Committee meeting last fall, I was impressed by her willingness to directly engage with our membership. We both noted the progress being made to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act and recognized other opportunities to help increase public confidence in what we do as an industry. 

At the same time, reflexive calls for more regulations following an incident are not always the answer. SOCMA believes that reviewing existing regulations to identify gaps in chemical safety is far more appropriate than the temptation of creating new or duplicative rules.  We already have an overly complex web of regulations, which in many cases conflict with one another, thus creating excess time spent in the industry trying to interpret them – precious time that could be spent instead on innovating new products. For example, following the tragedy in West, Texas last April, SOCMA and others have been engaged in a nationwide dialogue with EPA, OSHA and DHS regarding how to improve chemical safety and security.  This exercise is not intended, as a first priority, to create new ways to regulate what we do, but rather to evaluate and possibly revitalize those that are not performing as intended. Negligence in the workplace is an unforgivable offence. It pits chemical companies and its customers against the very communities that benefit from them.  However, creating more regulations to help remedy this situation is like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that hasn’t been disinfected properly.

SOCMA is also working closely with lawmakers on TSCA reform to ensure that it is done in a way that keeps small and mid-sized US chemical manufacturers competitive. TSCA reform is a major issue for us and I would like to thank Congressman Shimkus and his staff for the great work they have done to advance this issue. I will stop there as you will hear more about the latest developments from our distinguished guest from the House Energy and Commerce Committee staff during our first panel discussion.

Our industry must work with our government partners to pursue policies that will help the US chemical industry expand its markets and be more competitive.  One such way is to pursue a bold trade agenda, which includes policies that will enable us to tap into emerging markets and break down regulatory and non-tariff barriers. Current negotiations, including the Trans Pacific Partnership with Southeast Asia and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union, are just a start. Free trade is a tool to economic growth, and much more can be done here. 

In particular, TTIP will generate such large trade flows between our economies and the U.S. chemical industry stands to gain the most from such an agreement.  More than a billion dollars in tariffs on U.S. chemical exports would be eliminated under this agreement. However, the U.S. and EU take divergent approaches to regulating chemicals. As a result, cumbersome trade barriers have been created that have disadvantaged U.S. chemical manufacturers, especially small and mid-sized U.S. chemical manufacturers, including some of SOCMA’s members. In some instances, U.S. chemical manufacturers are unable to enter the European market because of high barriers in the form of testing costs and regulatory compliance burdens. The impact of this trade barrier is not limited to U.S. manufacturers; it also affects the accessibility of chemicals and innovative products in the EU market. You will hear more this afternoon about some of the challenges SMEs face complying with REACH, and many of you are probably familiar with the challenges your own companies face.

SOCMA also supports leveraging regulatory information and increasing our regulatory cooperation with the EU, in areas where appropriate. Such efforts can facilitate trans-Atlantic trade, while enhancing protection of human health and the environment. But, these efforts must be grounded in sound science and be risk-based, and not focused on simply the hazardous nature of a chemical like REACH is.

On a positive note, however, there are still opportunities for greater regulatory cooperation in the future. We encourage continued conversations between regulatory bodies in the U.S. and EU and, in particular, between the US EPA and the European Chemicals Agency. This includes assurances that our friends at EChA will provide greater staffing to assist small and medium sized enterprises – the very companies that need the most support. Additionally, any future coordination on regulations should be transparent and allow for input from U.S. and EU stakeholders.


By: Staff Reporter
+44 20 8652 3214

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