Guarded Optimism | January 5, 2009 Issue - Vol. 87 Issue 1 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 87 Issue 1 | pp. 19-23
Issue Date: January 5, 2009

Guarded Optimism

ACC President and CEO Cal Dooley is confident industry can navigate altered political landscape
Department: Government & Policy
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NEW LEADER
Dooley brings his congressional experience and trade group leadership skills to ACC.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
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NEW LEADER
Dooley brings his congressional experience and trade group leadership skills to ACC.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

AFTER THE oil industry hired Jack. N. Gerard, the American Chemistry Council's (ACC's) highly regarded chief executive, in June to assume the leadership of its national trade association, chemical industry officials had to find a new voice to represent their interests in the nation's capital.

Seeking someone with political clout and experience, ACC's board of directors selected Calvin M. Dooley, a former Democratic congressman who had served seven terms in the U.S. House representing California's San Joaquin Valley. While in Congress, Dooley was a founding member of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of moderate, pro-growth lawmakers.

Shortly after leaving the House at the end of 2004, he became president of the Food Products Association, which merged with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) in January 2007. Dooley was then chosen to lead the combined organization, representing the food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods industry.

"Cal's knowledge of industry, his excellent bipartisan reputation on Capitol Hill, his savvy business sense, and his political acumen make him a great choice to lead the association," says Robert L. Wood, former chairman of the board of both ACC and specialty chemical company Chemtura.

"I've known Cal for quite some time and am confident that he will provide the strategic and tactical direction to continue the momentum we have seen in the past few years," says Gerard, who became head of the American Petroleum Institute on Nov. 1, 2008, after Red Cavaney retired.

The $664 billion U.S. chemical industry, which employs nearly 900,000 Americans, is "clearly one of the leading industries in the country," says Dooley, who took the reins as president and chief executive officer at ACC on Sept. 8, 2008. Dooley sat down with C&EN last month to discuss his new role at ACC and the group's future direction.

"As someone who was very involved in a number of critical issues during my career in Congress, I looked at the policy agenda and the challenges that the industry faces in this new political environment, and I was intrigued by the opportunity to play a role and be a partner with our industry leaders in trying to find solutions to some of these issues," Dooley says.

ACC, which was founded in 1872 as the Manufacturing Chemists Association, lobbies on behalf of 134 chemical companies, including industry giants such as Dow and DuPont. Currently based in Arlington, Va., the trade association recently announced plans to relocate its headquarters to Capitol Hill in 2010 to be closer to federal policymakers (C&EN, Dec. 22, 2008, page 26).

The formulas for successfully advancing an advocacy agenda for the food and beverage sector and for the chemical industry are similar, Dooley says. "We have to build a broad-based coalition that includes not only our industry leaders but also our allied stakeholders, as well as finding ways to work with the nongovernmental organization community representing environmental and consumer interests. The work I did at GMA involved that type of approach, and that's the same approach we'll deploy here."

"A risk-based approach to chemical management is still in the best interest of enhancing the environment."

With Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House for the first time since 1994, businesses may face tougher challenges on the regulatory front in 2009. But Dooley rejects the notion that there has been a seismic shift in the political environment. "If you look at the background and political orientation of most of the newly elected Democratic members of Congress, they tend to be moderate to conservative, and those are the individuals that I have a great deal of confidence that we can work with," he says.

PART OF THAT confidence, the ACC chief explains, comes from his past experience. "I was part of that centrist Democrat group when I was in Congress. They understand the need to take a balanced approach to issues related to growing the economy and creating an environment that allows U.S. businesses to be competitive internationally," he says. "We might face a few more challenges on some issues, but overall I'm reasonably confident that we will have an opportunity to make our case and, many times, see the policy formulated in a way that reflects our interests."

Dooley says his judgment has already been validated by the "top notch" appointments President-Elect Barack Obama has made to his Cabinet, such as Timothy F. Geithner as treasury secretary and Lawrence H. Summers as director of the National Economic Council. "This economic team is made up of individuals who have a great track record," he remarks. "Our industry had great engagement and relationships with many of these same people when they served with President Bill Clinton."

Likewise, Dooley says he is "very excited" about the appointments of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu to become the nation's next energy secretary (see page 24) and Lisa P. Jackson, former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. "Our industry has a large presence in New Jersey, so we have a history of working with Jackson, and it's been a positive relationship," Dooley notes.

Congressional Democrats are hardly a monolithic bloc, a point recently illustrated by the overthrow of the business-friendly chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), a longtime critic of the chemical industry. Some two-thirds of all legislation, including energy and environmental policy, passes through this key panel.

But Dooley insists the change is no cause for alarm. "I had the opportunity to serve with both Dingell and Waxman. These are both very competent, effective legislators," he remarks. "While Waxman is perceived as being maybe a little more environmentally oriented, he has a history of reaching out and getting input from all perspectives. I'm absolutely confident that we are going to be able to work with Waxman and his staff, as a lot of the critical issues that we are facing will come through Energy & Commerce."

In his previous role at GMA, Dooley had to deal with growing consumer concern over the presence of chemicals in food and beverage packaging. The safety issue is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges he now faces because various states are considering or have already implemented bans on individual chemicals. Congress may also try to overhaul the nation's principal chemical regulatory law—the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—for the first time in over three decades.

The issue has been pushed to the forefront by the recent debate over the safety of bisphenol A (BPA), a plastics additive that has been used for decades in a wide variety of products ranging from baby bottles to the lining in canned goods. The Food & Drug Administration maintains that BPA is safe because the small amounts that leach out of food containers do not threaten children or adults. But activists have been waging a campaign to ban the chemical, citing studies that have linked it to heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, and numerous other problems (C&EN, Nov. 17, 2008, page 42).

In a letter last month to members of its advisory board, FDA said it will perform additional risk assessments but has no immediate plans to curb the use of BPA. Health advocates believe the agency already has enough scientific data to support a ban.

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Credit: Peter Cutts Photography (Both)
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Credit: Peter Cutts Photography (Both)

"FDA should prevent consumers from ingesting BPA from food and beverage containers and, at the very least, ban those materials in infant and children's products," says Urvashi Rangan, senior scientist at Consumers Union, an activist group. "They should also take action to find safer substitutes. Consumers should not have to be the guinea pigs while compelling scientific evidence continues to mount."

When Congress reconvenes this month, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) will reintroduce a bill in the House to ban BPA in all food and beverage packaging, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) will offer legislation to ban use of the chemical in children's products. "It's clear that FDA plans to kick the BPA-lined can down the road," Markey says.

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Credit: Peter Cutts Photography (Both)
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Credit: Peter Cutts Photography (Both)

ALTHOUGH chemical manufacturers continue to defend the safety of BPA, Dooley says the industry will be guided by FDA's findings as the agency evaluates new scientific studies. "When we look at issues related to BPA, phthalates, or any other chemical, we want to be assured that the science will be given the consideration it deserves in assessing the safety of those products," he says. "If FDA comes to the conclusion that BPA or some other material does pose a real risk, we'll comply with that decision very quickly."

Concerns over BPA point to the need to improve TSCA, the federal law under which EPA regulates the safety of the more than 80,000 chemicals in commercial use today. Dooley says a new science-based regulatory framework is required to respond to "this need to give greater confidence to consumers in the safety of the products they're purchasing."

ACC does not believe that TSCA is broken. "But we are absolutely convinced that the law can be improved," Dooley declares. "We are committed to working with our allied stakeholders and the environmental community to construct a new approach that identifies the scientific data that we need to gather, the transparency that we need to provide, and the authority we need to vest in our regulatory agencies to assess the science to determine the safety of our products. It will be a benefit to our companies and to consumers as well."

Environmental activists and some members of Congress argue that TSCA is ineffective because regulators must show that a chemical poses a health threat before the government can act. They contend that TSCA should be rewritten to reflect the so-called precautionary principle, which would shift the burden from regulators having to prove that a substance is dangerous to manufacturers having to prove that it is safe.

That approach is at the heart of the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act of 2008, which was introduced in the House and Senate (H.R. 6100, S. 3040) last May. The bills' sponsors hope to win passage this year after laying the groundwork with hearings and staff briefings in 2008. The legislation "will change a lax, outdated system that presumes chemicals are safe into one that requires makers of toxic chemicals to prove their safety before they're allowed on the market," says Kenneth A. Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.

Dooley says the problem with the precautionary principle is that it could lead to bans on chemicals that pose no actual danger. "One of the reasons why we continue to believe that the precautionary approach is not in the interest of consumers is that we are developing technology that can find trace amounts of chemicals and other compounds in the environment and in our bodies that have been there for generations, but they don't pose a health or safety risk," he says.

Applying the precautionary principle, he asserts, could actually have adverse health consequences because chemicals are essential components of many products that enhance and extend lives. "So we do contend very strongly that a risk-based approach to chemical management is still in the best interest of enhancing the environment, as well as health and safety," Dooley remarks.

The ACC president says the U.S. can learn some lessons from Europe's new law—REACH: Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & Restriction of Chemicals—that requires chemical manufacturers to provide detailed information about their products. But, he points out, "the program is still being implemented, and it's too early to tell if it's the right approach."

A better strategy, he maintains, is to build upon the voluntary testing, assessment, and management programs the chemical industry is already involved in with EPA and the work it is doing with international organizations, such as developing prioritization schemes on materials that need greater attention. "We think that we can be a real positive force in developing a new approach to evaluating the safety of the products that we're providing the marketplace," Dooley says.

ONE AREA where the industry official believes quick progress can be made is on legislation to increase the domestic supply of energy, a top priority for all U.S. manufacturers. Chemical makers have been hit hard over the past several years by volatile prices for natural gas, which they consume in huge quantities both to power their plants and as a raw material. Obama's staff and congressional leaders have said they want to have a comprehensive energy plan ready for action early this year.

A decades-old congressional moratorium on oil and gas development off the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts expired in October. Environmental groups are urging Congress to at least partially restore the drilling ban, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has indicated that his party will not try to backtrack. "I do not believe at this point in time that there are any proposals being made to reinstate the moratorium," Hoyer stated in mid-November.

"We think that we can be a real positive force in developing a new approach to evaluating the safety of the products that we're providing the marketplace."

"That sends a signal to us that Congress will, in fact, try to build upon their efforts in the last session to move forward with a bipartisan approach that will result in a comprehensive energy policy," Dooley says. "We are somewhat uniquely positioned in this debate because we support an 'all of the above' approach." A comprehensive plan, he says, should increase energy efficiency, promote alternatives and renewables, boost nuclear power, and invest in the development of carbon capture and sequestration technology so the U.S. can capitalize on its vast coal reserves. "But we also need increased domestic production of natural gas and oil," Dooley says.

The highest profile issue chemical manufacturers will likely confront in the next Congress is climate change. Obama has called for an economy-wide cap-and-trade program that would sharply reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Dooley says it is difficult for ACC to pass judgment on the president-elect's proposal until the details become clear. "We have member companies that support a cap-and-trade approach. We have some others that have questions. But I think all of our companies are concerned that if you don't take a balanced approach, it could seriously undermine the competitiveness of the U.S. chemistry industry," he says.

Dooley says he has met with members of Obama's transition team and explained that chemical companies use petroleum products not only as a source of energy but also as feedstocks in the manufacturing process. He gave them this message: "If we don't have a cap-and-trade policy that gives us consideration, such as credits for the use of petroleum feedstocks, you will render us less competitive internationally, and you're going to drive this industry and the people we employ offshore." Obama's advisers were "very receptive and understand that we are the industry that is manufacturing a lot of the products that are going to allow other sectors of our economy to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions," Dooley says.

Given the troubled state of the economy, it will be difficult to push a climate-change plan through Congress that will increase regulatory costs, according to the ACC president. "Even in the second year of the Administration, I think it's questionable because this economic downturn we're facing is so extensive, and so many members of Congress are concerned about any proposal that could contribute to a further loss of jobs in our manufacturing base," Dooley says.

 
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