Stymied by the inability of Congress to pass an energy policy, the head of a Senate energy subcommittee introduced legislation April 6 aimed at taming the soaring price of natural gas, a key feedstock of plastics.
The bill is from Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chair of the energy subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The proposal is drawing support from plastics industry lobbyists, who said it's the best vehicle to get Congress to address natural gas prices that have nearly tripled since 2000.
``This is the most assertive approach taken yet to solving the natural gas problem in this country,'' said Gene Steadman, government relations director with Celanese Corp. of Dallas, and its engineering resins unit, Ticona. He also heads the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s energy task force.
The bill includes a number of controversial provisions, including one that would make it easier to drill for natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico.
It also would create ``natural gas only'' leases for government lands, and expand federal authority over siting liquefied natural gas terminals, another provision that is well-liked by the plastics industry but is likely to prove controversial.
Alexander recognizes that some provisions may not survive, but he sees high natural gas prices as costing the United States jobs in industries such as chemicals, autos and agriculture, said his spokeswoman, Alexia Poe.
She said it's not clear if the bill will move on its own, or as part of larger energy legislation. To date, it has proved too difficult for Congress to pass comprehensive energy legislation.
SPI plans to lobby for the bill because boosting natural gas supplies and lowering resin costs are points that its diverse members have near-unanimous agreement on, said Peter Jones, president of Wexco Corp. in Lynchburg, Va., and head of SPI's public policy task force. That's very different from trade policy, where the group sometimes is split between interests of multinationals and smaller companies, he said.
While the industry may show broad support for the bill, the political challenges the legislation faces are substantial, he said.