SmartBrief sat down with Ross Eisenberg Vice President, Federal Affairs of the American Chemistry Council to talk about how the chemical industry handled this year’s pandemic-related challenges and to look ahead to the opportunities of 2021.
At the start of the year when the pandemic hit, how did that change the priorities of the chemical industry?
As with any year, ACC had a long list of policy priorities we were pursuing on behalf of our membership, including chemicals management, trade, infrastructure, facility safety and many others. COVID-19 added a new layer to these issues and brought new priorities to the forefront. Once the sheer scale of the virus was clear, our members shifted gears and put everything they had into fighting the spread of the virus and arming our front line health workers with the tools they needed. They ramped up production of vital, life-saving products; retooled manufacturing lines to produce entirely new, essential products; supported employees and communities with volunteerism and philanthropy; and, donated critical PPE to those most in need. In fact, ACC estimates that our member companies have made more than $100 million in monetary and in-kind donations to support Covid-19 relief efforts.
With these shifts in production came new problems that needed solving. As the pandemic took precedence, at the federal level we dedicated ourselves to securing designation by Department of Homeland Security as an essential critical infrastructure and at the state level helping align often times conflicting and competing executive orders to help ensure that our members could maintain uninterrupted operations. Our state affairs team also helped secure 27 state Executive Orders allowing pesticide applicators to apply antimicrobials as disinfectants.
How did the pandemic change ACC’s policy approach? What impact did the current administration’s trade policy have on the chemical industry?
The pandemic certainly changed the way we do our jobs as lobbyists. This is where I’m most grateful: ACC’s best-in-class policy and advocacy team was well-positioned to excel when Capitol Hill closed to the public and our jobs became virtual, and throughout this pandemic our team has continued to secure wins for the industry.
The pandemic brought to light some challenges with securing such essential supplies and inputs when a global health crisis puts stress on the system. Soon after the pandemic first took hold last winter, we saw supply chain disruption and significant shocks to product supply and demand. Complicating this challenge were often inconsistent approaches from state to state and country to country in terms of managing economic shutdowns. Moreover, the fact that the pandemic originated in a major economy like China meant that all downstream partners faced serious interruptions and challenges.
One of our biggest takeaways from this challenge is the importance of diversification to manufacturers of all sizes and industries. In other words, having sourcing options matter. As you know, increased trade barriers in recent years had already created an uncertain trading environment, distorted markets, and injected unexpected costs into global and regional supply chains. Tariff relief is one of the most straightforward ways to increase supply chain stability and expand American manufacturers’ access to critical inputs to producing materials and goods essential to fighting this pandemic and preparing for any other future health crisis.
After a year full of pandemic-related challenges and with a vaccine on the way, what challenges do you see for industry in 2021?
Like the incoming Administration, we too are set to face the challenge of eradicating COVID-19. Our members look forward to continuing to be solutions providers and arming healthcare workers and the public with the tools necessary to overcome this pandemic.
But the coronavirus isn’t the only challenge we will face in 2021. As always there will be political and policy challenges as well. And with challenges come great opportunities. We’ve reached out to congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris on a fair and transparent historic and hard fought victory. We’re connecting with the transition team and we’ve pledged to the incoming administration that we stand ready to constructively engage with the White House and bipartisan leaders in Congress to help drive the solutions for a future that will better serve all Americans – one that is safer, healthier, stronger, and more sustainable.
As always we’ll engage members of Congress on both sides of the aisle in a sustained, strategic manner, elevating key supporters to chemical industry champions. We’ll focus on making sure policymakers embrace science-based policies to protect public health and the environment including looking to chemistry to lower greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency and support our environment. And we’ll continue to support common sense regulations and robust and responsible energy and infrastructure development that to keep our industry and our economy on a path to growth.