The industry will face a dizzying array of political priorities in 2005, from perennial concerns such as energy policy and natural gas prices to rising issues such as crackdowns on plastic bag waste and environmental health.
Energy policy will remain a central issue in Washington, and industry lobbyists hope to take advantage of President Bush's second term and Republican gains in the Senate to do what, thus far, has proved difficult: passing an energy bill.
The issue does not always break on partisan lines, though. Previous energy bills were dragged down by controversial add-on provisions, like liability protection for makers of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), said Don Duncan, president of Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
``We have to have an energy bill that deals primarily with energy,'' said Duncan. While some lobbyists said passing an energy bill will remain difficult, and one House leader recently expressed doubts, Duncan said he is optimistic because Republicans picked up four seats in the Senate and the bill previously came within two votes of passing.
Even if the bill passes, Duncan said it could be several years before it has an impact on resin prices by boosting supplies of natural gas, a feedstock for much North American plastic.
The outlooks for broader manufacturing issues, such as trade policy, Chinese currency, health-care legislation and product liability, are tough to predict. Washington passed a corporate tax-cut bill in 2004, and some observers said the post-election period will see less attention to manufacturing issues.
But others, like Mike Lynch, vice president of government affairs at Illinois Tool Works Inc. in Glenview, Ill., said the administration is paying more attention, with its new manufacturing czar and outreach to companies.
``The Commerce Department historically has been about promoting U.S. products overseas,'' he said. ``They are only now starting to look at the health of the manufacturing sector.''
The larger impact for the industry may be in state capitals. For example, statehouses could pay more attention to the poor shape of the recycling infrastructure, Lynch said.
California will continue to devote a lot of attention to plastic film and marine pellet pollution issues, said Tim Shestek, director of state and local public affairs with the American Chemistry Council in Sacramento. Cities throughout the state will be watching San Francisco to see what happens with a proposed 17 cent tax on plastic and paper bags, he said.
There could be more attention paid to chemical health issues in the Northeast, as states show interest in applying the precautionary principle to regulating plastics and other chemicals, said Steve Rosario, regional director with ACC's office in Albany, N.Y. ACC includes the American Plastics Council.
While that environmental interest is growing, he said state governments also are more sympathetic to the economic difficulties manufacturers face.
``My sense is that they have certainly become more attuned to our messages and the need to protect plastic manufacturers,'' Rosario said.