Congress Poised To Approve Long-Sought ‘Sustainable’ Chemistry Program

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Lawmakers appear poised to approve long-sought legislation creating a federal “sustainable” chemistry program, four years after Congress declined to include the popular measure in TSCA-reform legislation due to concerns that it would delay the broader bill.

The Senate last month approved its version of the legislation, sponsored by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), agreeing to attach it to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a voice vote.

The House attached an identical version of the legislation -- originally sponsored by Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and John Moolenaar (R-MI) -- to its NDAA last month after approving a standalone version of the measure, by voice vote, late last year.

It is not clear when the legislation will be conferenced and approved, as House Democratic leaders indicated Aug. 10 that there will be no floor votes until the week of Sept. 14 -- unless political leaders are able to reach a deal on another round of coronavirus-relief legislation.

In general, the sustainable chemistry legislation requires the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) together with officials from EPA and several other agencies to create an interagency group “with responsibility to coordinate federal programs and activities” in support of “sustainable chemistry.”

The legislation requires the group, two years after enactment, to develop a strategic plan governing sustainable chemistry, though the legislation does not appear to define the term.

Instead, it requires the interagency group to “develop a working framework of attributes characterizing and metrics for assessing “sustainable chemistry,” after considering existing definitions, such as those developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and soliciting advice from a range of entities.

The legislation also encourages agencies to incorporate sustainable chemistry into existing research and development, technology transfer and other activities. And it allows participating agencies to “facilitate and support, through financial, technical or other assistance, the creation of partnerships between institutions of higher education, nongovernmental organizations, consortia, or companies across the value chain in the chemical industry.”

The legislation does not authorize new spending though the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that S.999, Coons’ original bill on which the amendment is based, that OSTP and each of the other nine agencies affected by the bill “would require, on average, two additional employees at an average annual cost of $150,000 each to manage and participate in the interagency entity,” the office said in a 2019 report.

“As a result, CBO estimates that implementing S. 999 would cost $2 million in 2020 and $14 million over the 2020-2024 period; such spending would be subject to the availability of appropriated funds,” the office said.

Coons had sought to include the legislation in the 2016 reforms that Congress made to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) but leaders of the efforts decided to drop key provisions because of concerns that its inclusion would have given the House science committee, which had not previously reviewed the underlying bill, jurisdiction over the TSCA legislation.

Many lawmakers were concerned that involving another committee would complicate already delicate talks between House and Senate lawmakers over two very dissimilar TSCA reform bills, a congressional source said at the time.

Surging Global Market

But now the legislation has been endorsed by a range of organizations, including a host of chemical industry groups and some environmentalists, Coons said in a statement.

The GC3 Sustainable Chemistry Alliance, a broad range of chemical and biochemical producers, downstream users and retailers, also backed the legislation, saying it will provide critical federal resources and coordination at a time of growing calls for less harmful chemicals.

“There is surging global market demand for the use of sustainable chemistry in the development and manufacturing of products across consumer, commercial and military markets. The Sustainable Chemistry R&D Act helps coordinate efforts across all federal agencies to accelerate US innovation in this exciting emerging area of market growth,” the groups said in a statement.

“Strategically coordinating and leveraging federal investment in sustainable chemistry research, development, technology transfer, commercialization, education, training and support for private-academic partnerships can not only accelerate progress -- it also has a multiplier effect for private sector investment in this area,” the group added.