CHEMICALS:

Industry group boosted political spending last year -- and it paid off

The American Chemistry Council significantly ramped up its lobbying efforts in the fourth quarter of last year, spending more than double its total for any quarter in recent history.

ACC, the chief lobbying arm of the chemical manufacturing industry, spent $5.37 million in the fourth quarter. The total represents the fifth most of any lobbying operation on Capitol Hill during that period, outspending the perennially deep-pocketed efforts of General Electric Co. and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis conducted for E&E Daily.

A review of ACC's lobbying disclosure report shows the group was involved in a host of issues, ranging from efforts to update chemical regulations, to U.S. EPA's air pollution rules for boilers and incinerators, to EPA's long-delayed health assessments of substances like bisphenol A (BPA) and formaldehyde. The group also successfully pushed for inserting language into the $1 trillion omnibus spending package passed at the end of the year and aired its first television ads of the election cycle.

The spending is significant because it shows ACC, which public health advocates view as public enemy No. 1, is having an ever-growing role on regulatory and legislative issues.

Anne Kolton, an ACC spokeswoman, said the lobbying shows the group has a renewed and sharper focus on Capitol Hill.

"The spending is a reflection of our increasingly aggressive approach to advocacy," Kolton said. "Policies that will support economic growth and job creation are very important for the future of our industry."

For all of 2011, ACC spent almost $10.3 million, significantly more than the $8.1 million it spent the year before. Last year's total trumps what was doled out by Dow Chemical Co., the industry's other major lobbying operation, which spent $7.3 million. The American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry, also spent far less than ACC in 2011 -- less than $6.3 million.

In some cases, the results of ACC's increased spending are crystal clear.

The group was most effective lobbying on the year-end omnibus spending package. Buried in the 1,200-page bill was language that requires EPA's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) to implement changes to its scientific methodologies outlined in a National Academy of Sciences review of the agency's formaldehyde risk assessment. It also requires EPA to submit a progress report to Congress by March and stipulates that EPA send three IRIS assessments to NAS for review next year.

ACC has long pushed for IRIS reforms, though critics argue that the group's goal is to delay the agency from finalizing assessments because they are the foundation of new, often stricter, regulations.

Notably, Democrats and some public health advocates touted the IRIS reforms in the omnibus as a compromise, implying that Republicans had sought stronger provisions to handcuff the IRIS program. Public health advocates have also noted that EPA is already in the process of implementing the NAS recommendations (E&E Daily, Dec. 20, 2011).

Kolton nevertheless called the language a "major victory."

"We saw a lot of success last year," she said. "It is a difficult environment, but we were able to move some key priorities."

The omnibus also contained $1 million to pay NAS for a scientific peer review of Department of Health and Human Services' "Report on Carcinogens." Last year, the document said styrene -- a common component of plastic food packaging -- is "reasonably anticipated" to cause cancer. The report also said formaldehyde, a common construction material, is a known carcinogen.

Industry has vocally criticized the report, and the styrene industry has sued HHS.

While ACC was clearly successful on the omnibus, the effects of its efforts were felt in other areas as well -- albeit less obviously.

The group criticized Sen. Frank Lautenberg's (D-N.J.) "Safe Chemicals Act" (S. 847), which would overhaul the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and require manufacturers to prove their substances are safe before they go on the market. Lautenberg's efforts appear to have stalled late last year after a hearing featuring ACC President Cal Dooley devolved into screaming when Democrats pressed Dooley, a former Democratic congressman, to submit legislative language (Greenwire, Nov. 17, 2011).

Similarly, ACC's disclosure forms show it lobbied EPA on its 27-year-old IRIS assessment of dioxin, a family of chemicals believed to cause cancer. EPA was supposed to finalize the non-cancer portion of its dioxin assessment in January but missed that deadline in the face of significant industry opposition. The agency has yet to explain what is causing the delay (Greenwire, Feb. 1).

ACC has similarly pressed EPA on its formaldehyde assessment, which is also more than 20 years old and has been delayed indefinitely, and other controversial chemicals like hexavalent chromium and phthalates.

Those results have raised the ire of public health advocates.

"The greatest impediment to protecting the public from toxic chemicals in everyday products is the money spent by the chemical industry in Washington to block legislative action to reform TSCA, and to prevent government scientists from taking steps to better-inform the public," said Daniel Rosenberg of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Jason Rano of the Environmental Working Group said that industry could have put those millions of dollars to better use.

"Clearly, it paid off to be a lobbyist for the chemical industry last year," he said. "Instead of spending its millions to block tougher public health protections of dangerous chemicals, the ACC could have used those resources to help build a safer generation of products we're all exposed to every day."

Wading into politics

ACC's lobbying total was also boosted because the group aired television and radio ads for the first time in recent history.

The group aired television spots that tout support for domestic energy production and small businesses in the districts of Republican Reps. John Shimkus of Illinois, Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, as well as Democratic Reps. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Gene Green of Texas. Whitfield and Shimkus are chairmen of House Energy and Commerce subpanels on issues relating to chemical manufacturing, and Green is a ranking member on one.

ACC aired similar ads for Republican Sens. Scott Brown in Massachusetts and John Barrasso in Wyoming.

Kolton said ACC intends to do more television ads this year but that it remains to be seen whether the group wades fully into election-year politics and backing specific candidates. "We are evaluating as we go," she said.

ACC's political action committee has been active so far this cycle as well. PAC dollars come from a different pot than lobbying funds and typically consist largely of employee contributions.

The PAC contributed nearly $78,500 to federal candidates through the end of 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That is significantly less than the $294,000 it gave to federal candidates last cycle, the most ACC's PAC has ever dished out. It is likely, though, that ACC's campaign contributions will ramp up as the election approaches this year.

There has been a significant partisan shift in the contributions, however. The Center for Responsive Politics breakdown shows the ACC PAC has given nearly 70 percent of its contributions to Republicans. In the 2010 cycle, a narrow majority of its contributions -- 54 percent -- went to Democrats.

The shift may be partially explained by Republicans -- who are generally more sympathetic to ACC's agenda -- taking control of the House in 2010, giving them more control over the congressional agenda.

Some of the PAC's most notable contributions this cycle have been $6,000 to Whitfield as well as $5,000 to Shimkus, Barrasso and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). On the Democratic side, the PAC has given $5,000 to Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska as well as $2,500 to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

E&ETV's OnPoint: ACC's Dooley discusses new advocacy campaign

With a politically charged climate in Congress, can meaningful policy on shale gas exploration, energy efficiency and energy regulations move in the near term? During today's OnPoint, Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, exclusively discusses his organization's new advocacy and awareness campaign with E&ETV. The campaign, Chemistry to Energy, focuses on the chemistry industry's role in the United States' economic recovery. Dooley weighs in on the controversy surrounding shale gas exploration and the exportation of liquefied natural gas to Asian and European markets. Today's OnPoint will air at 10 a.m. EST.