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Senate Refers Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2019 to Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

On December 10, 2019, the U.S. Senate received and read twice the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2019 (Act). Passed by the U.S. House of Representatives one day prior to the Senate’s review, the Act -- H.R. 2051 -- if approved, will establish an interagency working group led by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to coordinate federal programs and activities in support of sustainable chemistry. This is an exciting development and, for sustainable chemistry fans, an important milestone in the evolution of this important legislation.

Legislation Overview

The Act is based on five key Congressional findings on sustainable chemistry:

  • Its value and role in the federal government in Section 114 of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (Public Law 114-329);
     
  • Its contribution to business competitiveness across various industrial and consumer sectors;
     
  • Its ability to reduce costs and open new markets through innovations in manufacturing and materials;
     
  • Its improvement of efficiency to meet human needs while avoiding environmental harm, reducing/eliminating emissions of hazardous chemicals, minimizing resource use, and benefiting the economy; and
     
  • The important role of the federal government in supporting full innovation and market potential of sustainable chemistry technologies through a coordinated national effort supporting research, development, demonstration, and commercialization.
     

If enacted, no later than 180 days after enactment, an interagency working group will be convened to oversee the coordination of federal programs and activities in support of sustainable chemistry, including the activities described above. To be terminated ten years after the date of the enactment, the working group would be co-chaired by OSTP, along with one representative from the following agencies: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and as appropriate, other related federal agencies.

Implementation

H.R. 2051 also includes a roadmap for the working group to follow no later than two years after the date of enactment. According to the bill, the working group will have to consult with relevant stakeholders, including industry and academia representatives, the federal government, and international entities to update the consensus definition of “sustainable chemistry,” which will guide the activities under the Act. In addition, a working framework of attributes characterizing and metrics for assessing sustainable chemistry will need to be developed. In developing the framework, the working group shall consider four factors:

  • Advice and input from stakeholders (including business and industry representatives; the scientific community; the defense community; state, tribal, and local governments; and non-governmental organizations (NGO));
     
  • Existing definitions of or frameworks characterizing and metrics for assessing sustainable chemistry already in use at federal agencies;
     
  • Existing definitions of or frameworks characterizing and metrics for assessing sustainable chemistry already in use by international organizations of which the United States is a member; and
     
  • Any other appropriate existing definitions of or frameworks characterizing and metrics for assessing sustainable chemistry.
     

As part of the bill’s implementation roadmap, H.R. 2051 would require that the working group assess the state of sustainable chemistry in the United States as a key benchmark from which progress under the activities described in the Act can be measured. Benchmarks should include assessments for key sectors of the U.S. economy, key technology platforms, commercial priorities, and barriers to innovation. The bill would require of the working group coordination and support of federal research, development, demonstration, technology transfer, commercialization, education, and training efforts in sustainable chemistry. In addition to these measures, the working group will also be responsible for identifying methods by which the federal agencies can facilitate the development of incentives for development, consideration, and use of sustainable chemistry processes and products. Major scientific challenges or challenges to transformational progress in improving the sustainability of the chemical science, accompanied by the identification of other opportunities for expanding these efforts shall also be considered.

Report to Congress

No later than three years after the date of enactment, the working group will be responsible for the submission of a report to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives. The report will have to include summaries of the Act’s implementation activities, financial resources, and the current state of sustainable chemistry in the United States, among other things. In addition to submitting the report to Congress, the working group will also be responsible for submitting it to the Comptroller General of the United States for consideration in future Congressional inquiries. A budget report will also be expected for fiscal years 2021 through 2030, not later than 90 days after submission of the President’s annual budget request.

Limitations

Funding under H.R. 2051 will be available only for pre-competitive activities and will not be used to promote the sale of a specific product, process, or technology. Agencies participating in the working group may, however, facilitate and support, through financial, technical, or other means, the creation of partnerships between higher education institutions, NGOs, consortia, or companies across the value chain in the chemical industry.

Other limitations include prohibiting the use of funds to: (1) support or expand a regulatory chemical management program at an implementing agency under a state law; (2) construct or renovate a building or structure; or (3) promote the sale of specific products, technologies, or processes.

Commentary

Sustainable chemistry, also called green chemistry, has contributed significantly toward a more sustainable economy. A review of the technologies pioneered by the winners of the Green Chemistry Challenge (formerly the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge) will confirm the enormous success these technologies have achieved in reducing the use of non-renewable resources, reducing the use, generation, and disposal of hazardous substances, and significant water and energy savings.

The proposed bill seeks to broaden the support of efforts to move the chemical enterprise toward a sustainable economy and to leverage existing efforts across the federal government to seek effective new technologies that are also more sustainable than incumbent technologies. The cross-agency effort will help ensure consistent definitions and metrics between and among federal partners.

It will be important for stakeholders to review and consider any opportunities to engage with the working group to be created as well as the member departments and agencies. If passed in the Senate, H.R. 2051 will potentially have a large impact in moving federal research efforts toward a circular and sustainable economy. Technology developers will want to engage with the various research efforts to understand better federal goals and possibilities to partner, through contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements, with federal funding sources and procurement officials. Whether it is purchasing biobased fuel for naval fleets or funding new “green” methods to manufacture novel molecules, the U.S. government is a major player in supporting sustainable chemistry, and this bill will help ensure that the various agencies and departments work toward the common goal of a more efficient and more sustainable economy.

©2020 Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 28

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