Washington — The next president should review the rules of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to give manufacturing a boost, according to trade groups and industry leaders.
Cheap natural gas is driving a chemical boom in the United States, said American Chemistry Council CEO Cal Dooley at a September conference examining what the next U.S. president should do to strengthen manufacturing, but regulations need to help, not hinder for U.S. manufacturers to see long-term benefits.
Inexpensive natural gas has prompted $170 billion new investment in the United States' chemical sector, with more than $100 billion coming from foreign direct investment. North American polyethylene producers particularly are seeing huge expansions as a result of newfound supplies of natural gas throughout the region. These affordable supplies have been realized through the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.
Whichever candidate prevails in November, U.S. manufacturers will be looking for “a legitimate commitment” to continue to access natural resources “in a responsible way” within the first 100 days of the new administration, Dooley said.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity to capitalize on this,” Dooley said. “We need a Congress and an administration that wants to maximize the production of natural gas in the United States. That would send a strong message for a second wave of investments in the industry.”
While fracking was viewed negatively by the general public initially, opposition from local governments has fallen off in recent years and had little impact on natural gas production, particularly as methods have improved and environmental concerns have waned.
The possibility of regulating fracking to the point of over-burdening industry remains very real, experts say. Even the best-intended regulations do not turn out they way they were intended and should be reviewed over their life, not just before they are implemented, said Susan Dudley, director of the George Washington University's Regulatory Studies Center and head of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2007 to 2009.
“Not evaluating after the fact would be unheard of in any other sphere,” Dudley said. The next administration should require EPA regulations to be evaluated by a third party, she said, and even then, they must be evaluated on a policy basis, whether current regulations are effective, what their ripple effects are and how outcomes could be improved — not just on science.
“Science doesn't tell you what the right policy choice is,” she said.