Even in a fiercely divided country, most Americans — and even most politicians — can agree that we all want a sustainable environment, and we all want to see even more manufacturing in the United States. The good news is that we can have both. But until recently, the federal government often did more to stand in the way of these twin goals than help Americans move forward.
That was especially true on the environmental regulatory front. Manufacturers are committed to environmental stewardship, and we believe in smart environmental regulations. But the regulatory system had grown out of control as administration after administration made it so complicated that the cost of compliance could make it impossible just to open a new manufacturing plant.
That has changed under the Trump administration, and last week the president took another significant step, issuing a “memorandum of understanding” requiring key agencies to collaborate and speed up approval processes for infrastructure permitting and, in turn, making it easier for manufacturers to navigate the maze of federal environmental regulations.
Over the years, regulations have become so complicated that some manufacturers now find themselves spending literally years on bureaucracy alone — complying with a confusing and often unnecessary web of study and modelling mandates, not to mention filling out ream after ream of regulatory paperwork — to open a single plant.
This avalanche of bureaucracy is not without consequence, especially for the communities that have lost out on new jobs because companies did not have the time or resources to go through this years-long process.
With President Trump’s actions to simplify and streamline all of this, we can build more manufacturing facilities in the United States — creating and securing more well-paying jobs — while still responsibly protecting the environment.
Over the past two decades, our country — with manufacturers taking the lead — has made tremendous gains in improving our environment and air quality. For example, as the National Association of Manufacturers testified before Congress last November, since 1990, carbon monoxide concentrations are down 77 percent, lead is down 99 percent, and nitrogen dioxide is down 54 percent.
Manufacturers are doing our part — not only by reducing our emissions and enhancing our sustainability but also by developing the products and technologies to make that possible. And to continue that progress, the NAM and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Plants Program recently announced the Sustainability in Manufacturing Partnership.
The DOE, through the Better Plants Program, has already partnered with nearly 200 manufacturing and industrial organizations, helping them achieve ambitious energy and water savings goals. The Sustainability in Manufacturing Partnership will spotlight best practices and connect more manufacturers with the resources and knowledge available through the program.
Every manufacturer’s operation is unique, which is why we should have the freedom to tackle sustainability challenges in our own ways.
For example, Schneider Electric, a leader in process efficiency and automation, is driving emissions savings at 15 of its own U.S. plants, with a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
Owens Corning has set an aggressive target for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions — 50 percent below 2010 levels by 2020.
Global engine manufacturer Cummins made a $5 million investment at its Seymour, Ind., high horsepower engine plant in advanced energy-efficiency technology called regenerative dynamometers, which convert engine power from test cells to electricity that can be used onsite and exported to the grid.
BASF’s leadership in emissions reduction for the automotive industry began in the 1960s with the creation of the catalytic converter. In 2002, BASF’s scientists earned an award for their work on the three-way catalyst, a key contributor to cleaner air for billions of people in the United States and around the world.
General Motors has achieved 131 landfill-free facilities and is working toward zero-waste manufacturing at all of its global plants.
Saint-Gobain, which manufactures building, transportation and infrastructure materials, incentivizes its 130 manufacturing sites to compete against each other to see which one can reduce its environmental impact the most.
The approach pursued by the Trump administration, in which the government and industry are partners, not adversaries, is the right one. We want to identify solutions that work and replicate them whenever possible. Let manufacturers innovate, rather than be constrained by a top-down federal government mandate.
Manufacturers accept the responsibility to better the future of our communities, our environment and our children, which is why, over the past decade, we have reduced emissions by 10 percent even as our value to the economy has increased 19 percent. Empowered by these recent developments, we look forward to taking our sustainability efforts to a new level.
Jay Timmons is president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, the largest manufacturing trade association in the United States.