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SPI energizes membership on bill

Personally visiting with senators and their staffs in the run up to the May 26 committee vote, Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI; Washington, DC) President Bill Carteaux and Energy Task Force Chair Gene Steadman gained significant traction in their efforts to alleviate record-high natural gas prices through the energy bill, watching the legislation, which includes numerous measures they lobbied for that would directly benefit the plastics industry, pass the Energy and Natural Resource Committee by a vote of 21 to 1.

A full Senate vote on the energy bill, which already passed the house 249 to 183 on April 21, is expected in mid to late June after the Memorial Day recess, setting up the possibility for President Bush to sign the measure this summer. In the run up to the Senate vote, SPI had begun a letter, fax, and e-mail campaign among its members, especially in key Midwest states, to lobby senators for support of the bill. At the SPI website (www.plasticsindustry.org), the trade association has form letters for specific states that include key data on how high natural gas prices affect that state''s economy and industry.

One area viewed as key by Carteaux and Steadman, but deferred to the full Senate vote by committee chair Pete Domenici (R-NM) after contentious debate, was a lift on the moratorium barring gas drilling on the outer continental shelf. The extended, underwater perimeter of the continent, the shelf is believed to contain significant natural gas reserves.

Via phone interview, Steadman and Carteaux said the bill, if passed in its current state, could have a relatively quick impact on natural gas prices and volatility, with new capacity coming on line and increasing supplies in as little as 3 years, compared to the 10 or more years needed for the bill''s provisions to significantly affect gasoline prices.

In addition to greater exploration, Carteaux and Steadman said the proposed bill also contained conservation, alternative fuel, and efficiency measures, which in the long run, will also help with price of natural gas, especially if utilities move away from natural gas towards other fuel sources like nuclear energy. As part of their testimony to Senators and their staffs, Carteaux and Steadman presented information on global pricing of natural gas, with the U.S., at $7/Mbtu, the highest in world. They said that this puts the country at a significant disadvantage from a plastics feedstock and energy resource perspective, particularly compared to Saudi Arabia and China, where gas prices are $.70/Mbtu and $4.55/Mbtu respectively.

Key provisions for plastics in the proposed bill, in addition to access to the continental shelf for drilling, include granting sole jurisdiction of liquefied natural gas facilities to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission instead of individual states; and a coastal impact assistance amendment, which would provide wetland funds for impacted areas and push energy companies to drill further offshore-up to 20 miles-with the new gas pipelines tapping into existing infrastructure to reduce environmental impact.

Tony Deligio [email protected]

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