While Congress is moving toward approving the country's first major energy policy rewrite in a decade, plastics and chemical industry lobbyists say it will do little to address their central concern - tight supplies of natural gas.
The House of Representatives passed the Republican-crafted bill Nov. 18, amid criticism from environmentalists and some Democrats that it gives away too much in tax breaks to the energy and utility industries. The legislation was stopped, at least temporarily, in the Senate on Nov. 21, but Republican leaders vowed to try again soon. Passing a bill has been a top priority of plastics and chemical industry lobbyists for at least two years.
``Near-term we're not looking at a whole lot,'' said Maureen Healey, vice president of government affairs for SPI. ``We're unfortunately falling victim to politics. They have to get something on the president's desk.''
Both Washington-based SPI and the Arlington, Va.-based American Chemistry Council said the legislation would provide some help in the longer term, with incentives to boost natural gas production and streamline permitting. The legislation also would allow a natural gas pipeline to be built from Alaska to Chicago, which would take about 10 years.
But the bill does not contain the kind of environmentally and politically sensitive measures that industry had advocated in the short-term, like opening up more natural gas drilling offshore in the Outer Continental Shelf and in the Rocky Mountains.
``The bill is notably lacking in provisions to boost short-term production needed to reduce cost pressures on manufacturers struggling to compete in global markets,'' ACC said in a news release. ``Congress should look at the report as a modest down payment on improving conditions in natural gas markets.''
Despite its criticism, ACC said the legislation should be passed. ACC includes the American Plastics Council.
The U.S. plastics industry is heavily dependent on natural gas, both as a feedstock for making resin and as source of power for its factories.
Both SPI and ACC said they would push for additional natural gas legislation, but acknowledged it would be difficult.
ACC spokesman Tom Gilroy said the issue of drilling in the OCS is so sensitive that provisions simply to study what supplies might be in the OCS were struck from early drafts of the bill.
Healey said a tough winter could send natural gas prices higher and increase pressure on Congress.
``We certainly haven't seen the last of this issue,'' she said.