WASHINGTON (Jan. 13, 10:30 a.m. EST) — The plastics industry's political agenda in 2003 is likely to echo many of the themes from the past several years, such as concerns over energy legislation, trade and environmental issues. But industry lobbyists also are tossing a new ingredient into the broth: health care.
Rising medical costs seem to be putting more of the industry's trade groups on notice that they should be more involved with that issue. But because the problem will draw in many of Washington's most-powerful lobbying groups, the relatively small plastics trade associations struggle with how to address it.
“This is one of those issues that is kind of a balancing act — it's not plastics-specific, but it does profoundly impact our members,” said Maureen Healey, vice president of government affairs with the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington. “Health care could become a critical issue for us.”
But, she added, “What we see as our role is still being defined.”
Other lobbying groups, like the Composites Fabricators Association in Arlington, Va., say it is an issue their members increasingly are concerned about.
The National Tooling & Machining Association in Fort Washington, Md., for its part, puts legislation supporting association health plans near the top of its priorities. Such legislation would make it easier for trade organizations to pool members, particularly among smaller companies, and buy health care across state lines.
“Health care obviously needs to be addressed,” said Ken Odette, associate director of government affairs at CFA.
While the industry has its political goals, lobbyists cautioned that the looming possibility of war with Iraq and unfinished business in Washington makes it hard to offer much in the way of predictions on what is likely to happen.
“Right now everything is up in the air,” said Healey. The Senate, in Republican hands again, has to reorganize, and Congress must finish up last year's spending bills before moving ahead.
All the uncertainty means that even the energy legislation that was one of SPI's top priorities last year, and the focus of much of Congress, may not rank high on the agenda in Congress this year, Healey said.
If it does, though, she said the Republican takeover means that this Congress is likely to be more open to increased drilling of natural gas, which the industry favors.
In other areas, CFA expects to get the final Environmental Protection Agency rules for styrene emissions for its industry in the next few months, ending a debate that has lasted years.
Once that issue is resolved, the association will take a look at tax issues, like depreciation of equipment and transportation legislation that could boost things like composite bridges. And the group is looking at the voluntary agreements that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has reached with other groups, including SPI, Odette said.
NTMA, for its part, hopes to raise awareness of the economic and trade problems facing the tooling industry, said Shane Downey, director of government affairs. NTMA will use the U.S. International Trade Commission's October report to elevate the issue in Washington, and could push for a presidential commission to study the problem, as some lawmakers have suggested, Downey said.
The mold-making industry has decided not to proceed with a march on Washington. Instead, the industry will hold a lobbying day and continue meeting with policymakers, said Dan Jepson, president of Manufacturers for Fair Trade and president of Jepson Precision Tool Inc. in Cranesville, Pa.
“When you first look at these issues, your gut reaction is quite strong — you want to close down that border,” Jepson said. “But as you start to talk to the experts, you realize you can't do that. We have to try to figure out what we can do to make the best of a bad situation.”
At the state level, industry could be looking at a number of environmental issues, said Roger Bernstein, vice president of state government affairs for the American Plastics Council, which is part of the American Chemistry Council in Arlington. The industry will be monitoring green building issues to see that plastics is “given a fair shake” in decisions about how to evaluate environmentally preferable building codes, he said.
And the United States will see an uptick in electronics waste disposal legislation, he said: “I do see an overall shift across the country from concerns about solid waste in context of packaging to solid waste with electronic waste,” he said.
Bernstein said issues relating to children's health also could pop up in statehouses, from concern about phthalates in the Northeast, to California, where legislators plan hearings on possible links between chemical exposure and disease.