WASHINGTON — While the country digests what a Bush presidency and Republican control of Congress will mean, much of the activity of plastics industry lobbyists will be outside the Beltway, in state capitols around the country.
Even some of the issues industry lobbyists in Washington expect to follow are driven less by political forces and more by regulators, such as emissions standards for composites manufacturing or coating of plastic parts.
In the end, it means a diverse playing field for the industry's political interests. In some cases, the issues will be repeats of last year.
California and Kentucky are likely to dominate debates about plastic packaging, much as they did in 2000, said Roger Bernstein, vice president of government affairs at the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va.
Kentucky's legislature hotly debated a bottle bill last year and is expected to do so again, because it is strongly supported by Kentucky's House Majority Leader Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.
California's agenda is less specific, but the state is likely to bear watching, said Luke Schmidt, president of the National Association for PET Container Resources in Charlotte, N.C. The state expanded its bottle bill in 1999, and regulators continue to be concerned about falling recycling rates.
One environmentalist, Pat Franklin of the Container Recycling Institute in Arlington, Va., predicts Iowa is the most likely spot for successful bottle-bill legislation because the state is considering expanding its existing program.
Attention also will focus on Georgia, with the tentative formation of an alliance of a carpet maker, environmentalists and foundations to boost recycling. Many in that group support bottle bills, but APC's Bernstein said "the chances of a bottle bill passing in Georgia are not even worth discussing. I will give you a four-letter-word answer: Coke."
Other issues also will attract attention around the country.
Bernstein said APC will be involved in "green" building issues, such as making sure plastics receive proper tax credits for their life-cycle benefits in construction. The group will work to get reusable pallets and shipping containers the same tax advantages as disposable ones, and to open plastic pipe markets through building codes, he said.
Laws and regulations designed to protect children's health are likely to be hot topics in statehouses, following the lead of the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been looking at the issue.
Bernstein said California, Massachusetts and Minnesota all will take up the issue, and Massachusetts lawmakers are likely to debate whether the precautionary principle should play a stronger role in regulatory decisions.
APC has by far the largest presence among industry trade groups in state capitals. The much smaller state effort from the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. will focus on work-force development.
That will include both pushing for funding for SPI's satellite-based worker training program and talking to state officials and industry groups about addressing their work-force needs, said Maureen Healey, senior director of state government relations for Washington-based SPI.
The group also will work with APC on mold lien legislation and hold regulatory-compliance workshops, she said.
Some industry officials predict that potential gridlock in a Congress focused on the next election will shift more activity to the state level. But there still will be important developments in Washington.
The Composites Fabricators Association, in Arlington, is waiting for EPA rules on new emissions, called maximum achievable control technology standards.
CFA also is waiting for separate assessments of styrene's carcinogenicity from the EPA and Harvard University, which in turn will influence whether California decides to list the chemical on Proposition 65 and require warning labels, said Ray Odette, manager of CFA's composites advocacy program.
The Washington-based Flexible Packaging Association mainly has a regulatory agenda, monitoring action from EPA on new source review, which requires new emissions permits for manufacturing changes, and paper and web coatings, which encompasses plastics, said Glen Rountree, director of technical and regulatory affairs.
"For most of these regulations, who sits in the White House will not make the yea or nay on the regulation," he said. "It may shape the regulation."
There will be new chairs of some key congressional committees that affect plastics, said Lew Freeman, SPI vice president of government affairs. Republicans maintained control of both chambers of Congress, but with smaller margins. The Senate will be split 50-50, with Vice President-elect Richard Cheney casting tie-breaking votes.
In the House, the Commerce Committee will get a new chair, which is likely to be Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has a background in plastics, could be the new head of the Education and Workforce Committee, and Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., may be the new head of the Small Business Committee. Kelly has been a proponent of regulatory reform, one of SPI's chief lobbying priorities, Freeman said.
Regulatory reform generally means business-friendly changes in how government agencies write their rules. An SPI-supported measure to give lawmakers authority to investigate the costs of proposed rules passed Congress in the fall, and Freeman expects more activity in the next Congress.
Bush has nominated New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a choice that has been praised by the chemical industry and some environmental groups. Bush also nominated former Reagan administration Civil Rights Commissioner Linda Chavez to head the Labor Department. At press time, Bush had yet to name key officials for small business, trade or product safety agencies.
"Certainly President-elect Bush has demonstated by his stewardship of Texas, and rhetoric in the campaign, to be less prone toward excessive regulation and more trusting of the private sector," Freeman said.
At the same time, Freeman said he does not anticipate radical proposals, such as when President Reagan's environmental aides tried to overturn regulations in the early 1980s: "I do not expect some kind of a 180-degree rollback in any of these areas."
It remains to be seen what other regulations the Clinton administration could pursue before leaving, similar to its actions on ergonomics, he said.