WASHINGTON — Nothing that would get the plastics industry in an uproar made any headway in state capitols this year. And that goes a long way toward making it a good year for industry lobbyists.
For consumer and environmental organizations, that lack of success meant it was not a particularly good year. But then, they said, neither was any ground lost in legislative battles that ended mainly in stalemate.
Many legislatures have adjourned for the year, or cannot consider new bills until next year.
The industry held off some high-profile pushes to expand bottle bills in Massachusetts, Oregon and California, but recyclers contend the popular proposals have been bottled up in legislative maneuvers and will take off when lawmakers return.
A handful of states took concrete steps on electricity deregulation, but efforts in the plastics heartland of Ohio remained stalled. And the industry scored a few small victories on mold-lien legislation and model energy codes, and in holding off an environmental labeling measure in Massachusetts.
The industry continues to face the perception among some policy makers in Connecticut that it is a low-wage industry, although progress is being made and the industry is getting some economic development recognition, said Ted Stoughton, a director of the Connecticut Plastics Council.
A year without any negative legislation affecting the industry is a victory, said Roger Bernstein, vice president of state government affairs for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the American Plastics Council. This is the first year the two Washington-based trade groups combined their state lobbying functions, and it was an ``excellent year,'' he said.
``We blocked some things that were onerous,'' he said. ``We continued to build grass-roots efforts to head off threats. ... We have responded to the needs of SPI business units'' on issues such as legislation aimed at restricting some uses of plastic pipe.
For public interest groups, one question is whether declining recycling rates for many plastics, including PET, will lead to more support for environmental legislation.
``It certainly wasn't a banner year for recycling or source reduction,'' said Pat Franklin, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute in Washington. ``It will be a question of whether the public and public interest groups are going to take a stand on it and raise some Cain.''
California, like several other states, considered a bottle bill expansion that would have covered sports drinks, teas and other containers that were not popular when bottle bills were adopted, but that was stopped in committee. It is likely to be considered again in 1998, said Rick Best, spokesman with Californians Against Waste in Sacramento.
California legislators, however, dealt a blow to chlorinated PVC pipe by voting down a measure that would have made it easy to use PVC.
An effort is under way administratively to rewrite state building codes to allow CPVC, said Dan Pellissier, spokesman for the Coalition for Consumer Choice, a pro-PVC pipe organization in the state.
Arizona also took action against plastic pipe, banning PVC and ABS pipe in buildings over three stories tall. But the industry was able to protect plastic pipe in Texas, Bernstein said.
For plastic packaging, it was a quiet year. Proposals popped up but none of any consequence passed, said Rick Thornburg, director of government relations for the Washington-based Flexible Packaging Association.
One proposed bill mentioned prominently by Thornburg and other industry lobbyists was an effort in Massachusetts that would have required warning notices for products or packaging that contained endocrine disrupters or other chemicals judged harmful.
The measure, similar to California's Proposition 65, ``never got legs'' and stalled in the Legislature, said Bernstein. Since it was not a ban, and only required warning labels, the bill could have gotten momentum if the industry had not focused on it, he said.
The fight will continue over the bottle bill expansion in Massachusetts when the Legislature returns in September because 111 out of the 200 legislators co-sponsored it, supporters said.
A bottle bill expansion in Oregon also had several hearings but no bill was passed before the Legislature adjourned for two years, said Laura Culberson, consumer advocate for the Oregon Public Interest Research Group.
Negotiations between grocers and consumer groups continue. If some of the responsibility for implementation is taken away from grocers, the local small-business opposition to the measure can be reduced, she said.
Electric utility deregulation made some progress, with four small, mainly rural states passing legislation that will bring customer choice between next summer and 2002.
Maine, Montana and Nevada all passed bills that are ``fairly balanced'' in protecting consumers and placing restrictions on stranded costs that utilities can recover, said Robert Simon, manager of state issues for the Chemical Manufacturers Association in Arlington, Va.
Oklahoma passed a bill that opens markets in 2002 but it needs additional details, he said. Regulators in Arizona and Michigan also took administrative action to open markets, with Arizona taking a ``well-balanced approach'' and Michigan pursuing a course that ``favors the incumbent utilities,'' Simon said.
To date, 12 states have taken action, including California and New York, which will put pressure on other states to deregulate.
But action in Ohio remains mired in negotiations over recoverable stranded costs, said John Mahaney, chairman of the Coalition for Choice in Electricity and president of the state's Retail Merchants Council. The political debate over recoverable stranded costs boils down to how much utilities will be allowed to recover from customers on investments that may not be profitable.
In Ohio a joint legislative committee is set to issue a report on electricity in October, he said.