After years of negotiations between lawmakers, chemical companies and environmental groups, an updated Toxic Substances Control Act — the nation’s primary chemical safety regulations — became law late last month, greeted by much fanfare on both sides of the isle and the issue.
One industry sector that probably wasn’t celebrating as much as it had planned, however, was green chemistry — companies that develop biochemicals, sustainable plastics and other such technologies and processes.
The bill’s “green chemistry” provision, which focused on funding the research and development of sustainable chemistry, didn’t make it into the final version.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) originally added the green chemistry provision to the Senate version of the TSCA Reform, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697).
As Lynn Bergeson, managing partner of Bergeson & Campbell writes in a blog post, the provision “called for a study of how to best incentivize sustainable chemistry research and development, as well as support ‘economic, legal and other appropriate social science research to identify barriers to commercialization and methods to advance commercialization of sustainable chemistry.’”
It also created an EPA-led working group to coordinate federal sustainable chemical activities.
What does this mean for the future of biochemicals, sustainable plastics and other green chemistry sectors?
“While regrettable, the absence of the green chemistry provisions in the amended Toxic Substances Control Act is a setback, not a deal breaker,” Bergeson told Environmental Leader. “The green chemistry provisions in Section 24 of H.R. 2576 were taken from Senator Chris Coons’ (D-DE) Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act. Section 24 was eliminated reportedly because its inclusion would have been subject to review by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, a different House Committee from the House Energy and Commerce Committee that had primary jurisdiction over TSCA reform, potentially complicating and delaying an already complicated and time-sensitive Congressional review process. The decision to forego this review and eliminate the green chemistry provisions is disappointing, but a failed TSCA reform effort would have been more so.”
Bergeson says the provision’s absence in the updated chemical safety law eliminates — for now — the development of and funding for a green chemistry strategy at the federal level. Sen. Coons is expected to introduce a similar bill next year.
Senators Coons, Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ed Markey (D-MA) have asked the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) for a technology review of sustainable chemistry. “The report, expected to be complete in the spring of 2017, can help illuminate the options available to the federal government to promote green chemistry whether by instigating new legislation or by serving as a resource which existing legal authorities can use to support this field that is so vital to economic competitiveness and/or use to diminish the less positive impacts of chemistry throughout our economy,” Bergeson said.
Meanwhile, more than 300 new chemicals that various companies are trying to bring to market stalled once President Obama signed the updated chemical safety law on June 22.
As Bloomberg BNA reports, the amended TSCA changed the criteria used by the EPA to decide if these chemicals can enter US commerce. The agency didn’t say when it would make decisions about these new chemicals.
The EPA has, however, EPA posted an Implementation Plan that outlines the agency’s first-year plans to implement the new chemical safety rules. It gives chemical companies and others a better idea of what, and when, they can expect in terms of EPA rulemaking and enforcement activities.