And economists from across the ideological spectrum have rightly observed that by historic standards, this is one of the weakest U.S. recoveries on record.
But even in the midst of anemic growth and falling labor-force participation rates, one sector continues to power forward: America’s chemical industry.
The reason for the resurgence is well known: Vast new supplies of natural gas flowing from U.S. shale deposits have given American chemical manufacturers a global advantage.
The response from the industry is a flurry of activity that could reap benefits for decades to come. Chemical manufacturers have announced approximately $150 billion in investments.
The chemical industry is building new plants – and retrofitting others to leverage U.S. natural gas. The data on nominal construction spending shows construction spending by the chemical industry increased nearly 140 percent from June 2014 to June 2015, with the growth rate exceeding 150 percent in the first half of this year alone.
Investments and jobs
If all of the industry’s investments move forward, they will create nearly $300 billion in new economic output and lead to more than 400,000 new jobs. The investments would also lead to $21 billion in permanent new federal, state and local tax revenues by 2023.
But the future successes of the shale revolution and America’s manufacturing renaissance are not forgone conclusions.
We need policies equal to this historic opportunity.
The good news is that the chemical sector may be getting some timely assistance from a rare instance of Washington bipartisanship.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress have come together in an effort to modernize the Toxic Substances Controls Act (TSCA), the outdated regulations affecting the chemical industry. The proposed reforms will help bring 1970s legislation into the 21st century.
It’s taken years of bipartisan work and negotiation, but these changes are just the comprehensive overhaul we need.
Just as important, these bipartisan efforts appear to have an excellent chance of succeeding. The reform is drawing impressive support from the industry, building trade unions and organizations including the Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, March of Dimes and U.S. Humane Society.
By modernizing the regulations governing the chemical industry, we can strengthen and clarify the role of government in overseeing and protecting public health. The proposed reforms would provide a better system for the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate risks of both new and existing chemicals using the best available science. This will give the public confidence in the safety of the chemical products used every day.
Regulatory modernization will also help strengthen and sustain America’s role as a leading innovator for chemical products – an area that drives 25 percent of the U.S. economy.
To borrow a phrase from Daniel Yergin, plastics and chemical products are “the bricks and mortar of contemporary civilization.” They are found in 96 percent of manufactured goods – from lifesaving medical devices and personal technologies, to food packaging and storage, to building materials. Chemicals are vital to making the world safer and healthier. They are also critical to using energy more efficiently, as well as helping us minimize mankind’s impact on the environment.
But over the decades, the regulatory landscape for the U.S. chemical sector has been mired in complexity and uncertainties because of anachronistic Washington rules.
The TSCA has made it difficult to greenlight innovations or effectively calculate the costs of various policy options. Because the federal legislation is so out of date, this system is not working. In the face of this dysfunction and ambiguity
in Washington, a patchwork of state and local laws now exists – further complicating interstate commerce and the industry’s investment decisions.
Thanks to the efforts of leaders from both parties in Washington, we can look forward to clearing away that clutter and enacting reforms that bring clarity, certainty and consistency to America’s dynamic and vital chemical industry. With these reforms, parents in every state can be confident that their children are adequately protected from any risks, while manufacturers from New Jersey to California will have the regulatory certainty they need to continue to innovate and create jobs.
TSCA modernization passed the House this summer with overwhelming bipartisan support. And in the Senate, a coalition of both Democrats and Republicans are pushing similar legislation across the finish line in the hopes of sending a final bill to the president’s desk.
Those in Congress who are working together to modernize TSCA regulations deserve credit. They are acting in the best interests of our economy and our environment. They are also setting an example for modern Washington – building bridges across parties to act with wisdom and common sense.
It is a moment for which we can all give thanks – and which should guide the efforts of our elected leaders and policymakers in the future.