A Vulnerable Natural-Gas Supply; Washington Cannot Ignore the Problem

Article excerpt

Byline: Jack Gerard, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Among the many lessons of Hurricane Katrina is the serious vulnerability of our nation's natural-gas supply - and the urgent need for Congress and industry to work together to find a way out of what is now nothing short of a national emergency.

It is a crisis for the 6-in-10 American families who heat their homes with natural gas and face an average price increase of close to 50 percent or $500 per family this winter. It is a crisis for the chemistry industry, which uses natural gas as a raw material for compounds used in thousands of consumer products - from agriculture, telecommunications and automobiles to pharmaceuticals, health and beauty products and food packaging.

It is rippling through the economy in the form of product shortages. Simmons Bedding Company has reported that it cannot obtain enough polyurethane foam needed to make bedding. Goodyear is cutting U.S. tire production by 30 percent due to rubber shortages. Newell Rubbermaid has seen resin costs jump 21 percent in a year, and is looking at switching to alternative materials. And a bottled-water company that wanted to supply water to FEMA found that its suppliers could not provide the plastic needed. Production of carpet and fertilizer are also down.

The natural-gas crisis is threatening U.S. manufacturing, economic growth, employment and international competitiveness. More than 96 percent of all manufactured goods are directly touched by chemistry. The industries that rely on chemistry together represent more than a quarter of the nation's entire workforce. Unaffordable natural gas is driving away investment, crippling our manufacturing base and reducing job opportunities. It is transferring to foreign countries the advanced research and technology desperately needed in order to compete on the world stage. In effect, our nation's energy policy has become its de facto manufacturing and national-security policies as well.

In the chemistry industry alone, more than 100 plants have closed and more than 100,000 jobs have been lost. These jobs have been literally exported to other countries - in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and China - where natural gas is plentiful and up to 20 times cheaper. Business Week recently noted that of the 120 large-scale chemical plants under construction around the globe, only one is being built in the United States. …