WASHINGTON — For the most part, the Nov. 3 elections that saw Democrats thwart Republican hopes of expanding their hold on Congress will not have much of an impact on the plastics industry, industry lobbyists said.
But one key race could have an impact: California voters' decision to put a Democrat in the governor's mansion could strengthen the hand of environmental groups in revamping the state's bottle bill, some observers predicted.
In the nation's capital, Democrats picked up five seats in the House and held steady in the Senate, which is unusual because the party that controls the White House typically loses seats in a non-Presidential election.
But because the changes are on a small scale, plastics industry lobbyists predict there will be little impact on the environmental and business issues they pursue.
``With regard to flexible packaging and the plastics industry, I think it was a status quo kind of election,'' said Rick Thornburg, director of government affairs for the Flexible Packaging Association in Washington.
``We're only talking about a change of five or six seats, so I don't see the committee makeup changing,'' he said. ``I just don't see the agendas moving forward any quicker or slower than in the last two years.''
Lew Freeman, vice president of government affairs for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington, said he does not see significant changes on environmental, commerce or railroad committees that matter to the plastics industry. The industry will continue to have the same priorities as during the previous Congress, lobbyists said.
Those include funding for a new food-packaging-approval program, changes in how railroads are regulated that give shippers more leverage, reforms in how agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency draft rules, changes in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Superfund toxic waste cleanup.
At the state level, the gains made by Democrats in some key states have the potential to spell trouble for the industry, even if there are not any immediate red flags, said Roger Bernstein, vice president of the joint state government affairs unit of the SPI and the American Plastics Council.
California and North Carolina now have both their legislatures and governors' offices in Democratic hands, and Democrats picked up five state legislatures and lost only the lower chambers in Michigan and Minnesota.
``If there is a heavily regulatory agenda proposed, the dynamics of dealing with that could be much more difficult,'' Bernstein said. ``The body in control could be less suspicious of regulation than if it were under Republican control.''
The victory for Democrat Gray Davis in the California governor's race and continued Democratic control of the state Legislature enhances the environmental community's ability to expand the bottle bill, said Rick Best, policy director for Californians Against Waste in Sacramento.
But it is too early to predict what might happen specifically with the bottle bill, said Ralph Simoni, a lobbyist for the Plastics Recycling Corp. of California, an industry organization that funds recycling in the state. Departing Gov. Pete Wilson had vetoed legislation in September that would have expanded deposits on 20-ounce PET containers
Davis probably would have signed the bill that Wilson vetoed, observers said.
Because of that veto, the price the plastics industry pays to support recycling in California will rise from $12.2 million to $28.9 million, or from less than 1 cent per container to about 2.4 cents per container, CAW said. CAW said those figures are from a state report released in late October.