Chemistry council courts former members

Shortly after taking the reins at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Jack Gerard went on tour. His mission: To bring back some major chemical companies who left during a year of turmoil at the association.

Frustrated by high member fees and what they saw as ineffective advocacy, Huntsman Corp., Lyondell Chemical and GE Plastics all quit the ACC in 2003.

Since taking over the ACC from Greg Lebedev, who resigned under pressure from the group’s board in the summer of 2004, Gerard has met with executives from at least some of the companies to discuss the reasons for their departure.

“He was very anxious to have a meeting with the companies that had left and hear what was some of their concerns,” said Peter Huntsman, the CEO of Huntsman Corp., who has been among the most outspoken critics of ACC.

A spokesman for Lyondell told The Hill that company executives continue to discuss the industry’s concerns with ACC leaders but would not describe the tenor of those meetings.

Chris VandenHeuvel, a spokesman for the ACC, said Gerard has met with executives from four of its biggest former members: Huntsman, Lyondell, GE Plastics and Chevron Phillips.

So far, no company has said it will return to the group, despite the outreach.

But Gerard, who formerly directed the National Mining Association, has won high marks in his first few months in his new role.

Several lobbyists said Gerard has taken a more active role in lobbying Congress on matters important to the industry — such as high energy prices and legislation on chemical-plant security — than his predecessor.

Gerard is “off to a pretty good start,” Huntsman said.

Issues that chemical lobbyists said contributed to internal unrest at the ACC — in particular high natural-gas prices — remain a problem.

Prices in fact have risen even further for an industry that already says the high gas prices have cost it 90,000 domestic jobs. (Natural gas is a key ingredient in chemical products.)

Although Huntsman said he was encouraged by what he believes is the added attention the ACC is giving energy policy — in part by a side group started during Lebedev’s tenure — he said his company is waiting to see results before rejoining the ACC.

In the meantime, his company has increased its own presence in Washington. It had three firms on retainer and spent $720,000 on lobbying in 2004, according to Senate records. One high priority is a relaxation of federal restrictions on natural-gas drilling, especially along coastal areas of the Outer Continental Shelf.