By Harry C. Alford
One of the few shining stars of our nation’s economy, the $812-billion chemistry business, is working with Congress to pass a law that would actually give the federal government more authority to regulate chemicals. You heard right. An industry that has spent the past 40 or so years operating under a loosely defined “chemical regulatory system” in the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has decided it’s time to bring U.S. chemical regulations into the 21st Century so the federal government can do a better job at protecting consumers, including African Americans.
If you think something smells fishy here, you’re mistaken. In an era of zero-sum games and partisan, win-lose decision-making in Congress, this is a case of good, old-fashioned compromise.
Businesses around the country, millions of consumers who purchase their products as well as regulating agencies and environmental activists who hold those agencies accountable – all of us stand to gain from the passage of chemical safety reform legislation currently under review by Congress.
I haven’t seen this kind of bipartisanship in years.
But why are chemical manufacturers supporting this change? And for that matter, why should our 2.1 million Black-owned businesses support it? Because chemical reform done right will help ensure America and Americans – not just industry – are in a better place than we are today under the current law, in terms of protecting both health and safety, and ensuring that our country can hold on to its position as the world’s leading, low-cost innovator.
Note that I said low-cost innovator. As the backbone of America’s economy, the U.S. chemical industry is in a position to become the world’s low-cost producer of chemicals. This is important for a simple reason: the cost savings chemical manufacturers enjoy from being able to make the same chemicals for less can be passed on to suppliers, distributors, retailers and ultimately, the consumers served by our businesses.
What makes this all possible is America’s gift of abundant, affordable natural gas. Only in the past decade have we begun to unwrap that gift and see all that it has to offer. It turns out that one of the key building blocks of natural gas, ethane, is also a key building block of plastics – and, therefore, of virtually every product or technology in our homes made from plastics. If plastic can be made at a more reasonable cost, plastic products can be supplied, distributed and sold at a more reasonable cost.
In large part, because of what chemistry can do with our country’s vast natural gas supply, other countries are investing in America again. They want a share of our pie. That makes for a very bright outlook for 21st century manufacturing, and certainly a welcome development for the thousands of Black men and women who have made a career in making the products that their friends, family and fellow Americans can enjoy every day.
Now, not all of us in the African American community may care that much for the chemical sector. But I can tell you this: we care a great deal about what chemistry brings our community and our country. How about 800,000 jobs across the U.S.? How about 7.5 jobs in other sectors for every one job created in the business of chemistry? How about more than $700 billion in chemistry products flowing through our economy every year? Many of those products are helping to revolutionize medicine in the United States – and they’re saving our lives.
More than 96 percent of all manufactured goods are directly touched by chemistry. We know them as the cars and trucks we drive every day; the clothes we wear; the shoes we run in; the insulation and windows that keep us warm when we need it and cool when we don’t; the battery-powered portable device you might be holding in your hand right now; the lightweight plastic containers that keep our food safe from the farm, to the local store, to our homes; and those life-saving drugs and medical devices that help keep our loved ones healthy and in our lives as long as possible.
That’s why making sure we get it right in reforming our nation’s outdated chemical regulatory law is so important. Americans deserve to be able to shop at their favorite stores with confidence, knowing that the product they need is made and available in store shelves here in America – and that the chemicals used to make those products have been thoroughly tested. And chemical manufacturers want consumers to be able to have this kind of confidence. They want a comprehensive regulatory program that has everyone’s buy-in so that they can continue focusing on what they do best: creating solutions that enhance our lives and can solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
The chemical reform bill currently under review in the U.S. Senate is “The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act” (S. 697). In the House, the bill is called the “TSCA Modernization Act of 2015.” With the support of our community, we can help ensure strong reform is delivered to President Obama so he can sign them into law – and become a champion of one of the greatest compromise efforts of his presidency.
Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO, of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.