Ex-congressman takes helm of US chemical industry group


Cal Dooley

Cal Dooley, the new head of the ACC

Cal Dooley, the American Chemistry Council’s next president and CEO, is no stranger to controversies over industry’s use of chemicals. Since retiring from Congress in 2005, he has led the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) - a Washington, DC-based trade group representing the world’s largest branded food, beverage and consumer product companies. 

While at the GMA, Dooley confronted concerns over chemicals in food and drink packaging head-on. It’s not surprising then that when he assumes his new leadership role at the US’s largest chemical industry association in early September, one of the things that tops Dooley’s agenda communicating the safety of bisphenol A (BPA). A frequent ingredient in can coatings as well as plastic packaging and bottles, some studies have linked BPA to reproductive and developmental problems. 

Back in April 2008, Canada’s national public health agency, Health Canada, became the first regulator in the world to classify BPA as ’toxic’. In the same month, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a draft report indicating that BPA’s health threats are greater than were anticipated by earlier agency reviews. 

The chemical then caught the attention of US lawmakers, resulting in calls for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reconsider its position on the compound’s safety and the ACC itself requested that FDA conduct a comprehensive review of the safety data on BPA in food contact applications. The controversy refuses to go away, with California’s state legislature now considering a bill that would see only trace amounts of BPA allowed in products or food containers designed for children that are three years old or younger. 

But Dooley, who represented California as a Democratic Congressman for 14 years, is adamant that BPA does not represent a health or safety threat. Earlier this year, he met with several members of Congress and their staffs to brief them on the scientific data about BPA. ’Those studies that have been done by public health agencies have consistently found that it does not pose a risk,’ he says. 

Energy focus

Dooley honed his pro-business credentials in Congress. He was a founding member of the New Democrat Coalition - a group of moderates that supports high-tech companies and free trade. 

As ACC president, he wants to work to expand US access to energy supplies. ’I see the chemical industry as a significant consumer of energy and thus it is vulnerable to the volatility of energy prices,’ Dooley says. He plans to pressure Congress to implement a comprehensive energy policy that supports development of fossil fuel energy sources, as well as nuclear, alternative and renewable energy sources. 

At GMA, Dooley championed an effort encouraging lawmakers to re-evaluate national biofuels policies that are creating what he deems ’market distortions’ and causing one-third of the domestic corn crop to be used for ethanol production. He says the policies damaged the food and manufacturing sectors, as well as the meat industry.

In June, GMA testified before Congress that the practice of diverting food crops to the US fuel supplies has raised food prices and hurt the environment. That’s an argument rejected by the ethanol camp, which blames the rise in food and grocery prices on the increase in crude oil and energy costs. 

Dooley also applauds President Bush’s action on 14 July to lift the executive ban on offshore domestic energy development in the Outer Continental Shelf. Additionally, he supports Congressional efforts to promote drilling in protected offshore areas. ’We have seen the recent run-up in the prices of oil and it becomes very clear that we need to have a comprehensive energy policy that encourages the responsible development of our domestic supplies,’ he states. 

Sound science 

Beyond reforming energy policy, another topic Dooley wants to pursue at ACC is rail competition. Many chemical companies rely on the railroads to deliver their products, and they are concerned about increasing rail transportation costs and poor service. Nearly two-thirds of America’s chemical facilities that depend on rails are served by only one railroad; as a result of this monopoly, the chemical industry says it is routinely subject to exorbitant prices and unreliable service.

Dooley says he knows nothing about the details of investigations underway on Capitol Hill into whether the chemical industry wields undue influence at US federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency. He is, however, adamant that ACC must be ’very intellectually consistent’ in advocating policies ’based on sound science’. 

At GMA, Dooley teamed up with environmental lobby groups and human rights organisations like Oxfam International. He is committed to embracing non-industry stakeholders when he joins the ACC. ’To be effective in advancing a public policy agenda, you need to build coalitions of constituents that share your interests when the opportunity is available,’ he says. 

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Day USA 

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