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Opinion: The Plastic Paradox – W.Va. must embrace petrochemical potential

By Rebecca McPhail

President, West Virginia Manufacturers Association

In some circles, “plastic” has become an almost verboten term because of growing concerns about waste. But addressing waste around the globe while growing West Virginia’s economy are not mutually exclusive goals.

Rebecca McPhail

West Virginia’s abundant fossil resources in the Marcellus and Utica Shale regions make us the ideal engine for growth in the petrochemical industry, and the federal government recognizes it. During a  visit to West Virginia earlier this month, U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary for Fossil Energy Steve Winberg spoke of the tri-state region’s “Appalachian petrochemical renaissance” and said West Virginia is key to growing the industry, which is a national priority.

When President Trump spoke in Pennsylvania last week at the site of the future Shell cracker plant, he underscored how important domestic energy production and petrochemical manufacturing is to the country’s strength in a global economy.

Some criticized the president for ignoring environmental concerns about plastic waste, but this is where we all need to take a step back and realize manufacturing growth does not have to take place to the exclusion of environmental protection. I have faith in the brilliant minds across the world who can devise solutions for plastic waste management. I also believe – as do the members of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association – that the benefits of growing our petrochemical industry far outweigh concerns.

Let’s think about the role plastics play in modern American society. Imagine your home without plastics – that means taking away everything from your electronics and appliances to eyeglasses and clothing.

Now think bigger and look at an industry like health care. How could health care providers possibly meet the needs of their patients without plastics? Everything from pill bottles and IV bags to joint replacement parts and life-saving equipment are made with plastics. Your child’s asthma inhaler? Plastic. Your insulin pen? Made of plastic, which comes from petrochemical manufacturing.

It is easy for activists to disavow plastic because no one is demanding those who oppose this industry to provide a solution for replacing it. But we in industry embrace our responsibility to manufacture goods that make our lives possible, adhering to myriad environmental regulations and keeping a keen eye on sustainability.

Every problem has a solution, but not every opportunity has a champion.

The West Virginia Manufacturers Association refuses to squander the opportunity that rests with our petrochemical industry. We have been and will continue to be its champion.

This commitment is about more than the jobs the industry provides, which allow families and communities to thrive. Our commitment to growing the petrochemical industry is about forging a sustainable path forward for West Virginia. It’s about innovation that can improve our environment and growth of the larger American economy. Quite simply, it’s about working together to make all our lives better.

Opportunities like this rarely come along, and the WVMA is proud to be its champion.

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