Some very familiar - and, pardon the pun, some "underground" - provisions in the national energy policy legislation moving toward resolution in Congress unite the interests of the plastics and natural gas industries. Unless we make our views known, however, Congress could take the easy way out and fail to reach agreement on a final blueprint.
Three specific areas of the legislation passed by the Senate and House merit our mutual support:
* Natural gas supply. Since natural gas is the feedstock for about 70 percent of the raw materials the plastics industry uses, ample supplies at affordable prices are vital to sustain U.S. jobs, economic growth and balance of trade.
Plastics leaders should encourage legislators to support provisions designed to encourage producers to bring more natural gas to market, such as incentives to independent producers to squeeze the most natural gas and oil from existing ``marginal'' wells.
* Plastic pipe use by natural gas utilities. This year alone, natural gas utilities plan to install nearly 50,000 miles of pipe. About 95 percent of it will be 2-inch high density polyethylene pipe, according to Pipeline & Gas Journal.
During the next 20 years, natural gas utilities will install more than 255,000 miles of pipe, most of it plastic, to accommodate significantly increased demand. You can help make it happen by urging Congress to accelerate the depreciation period for pipelines, which would make loans to utilities more attractive to lenders.
* Reliable power supply. Innovative gas technologies such as distributed power generation give plastics manufacturers more control over the efficiency and reliability of their operations.
For example, Harbec Plastics near Rochester, N.Y., uses power from an array of ``microturbines'' - refrigerator-size units that use natural gas to generate 60 kilowatts of electricity - to produce uninterrupted power and heat for space-heating and space-cooling. Some of the excess electricity even charges Harbec's fleet of electric vehicles.
Both the House and Senate energy bills seek to promote increased use of on-site power generation, for example, through a new tax credit for combined heat and power systems.
Congress has not passed a major energy law for 10 years. It's time. Working together, natural gas and plastics interests can ``make it possible.'' I urge you to tell your elected officials to support passage of comprehensive energy legislation that supports the production, delivery and increased use of clean-burning, efficient, domestically abundant natural gas. It's good for your industry as well as ours.
Parker is president and chief executive officer of the American Gas Association in Washington.