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Policy

A voice for chemistry in Congress

by Susan B. Butts, Chair, Committee on Chemistry & Public Affairs
April 11, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 15

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Credit: Courtesy of Susan B. Butts
Susan B. Butts
Credit: Courtesy of Susan B. Butts
Susan B. Butts

I like to practice what I preach. As chair of the Committee on Chemistry & Public Affairs (CCPA), I have often encouraged ACS members to visit policymakers in Washington and in their home districts, and to contact their legislators through the Act4Chemistry Legislative Action Network (www.act4chemistry.org). So last summer, I made an appointment to meet with my Congressman, John Moolenaar (R-Mich.), whose district includes Midland, Mich., home to both Dow Chemical and Dow Corning.

During the meeting, I provided introductory ACS materials and several ACS policy statements, and I explained that we host Science & the Congress briefings and advocate on issues important to the chemistry enterprise. Congressman Moolenaar mentioned that other members of Congress often approach him with questions related to chemistry and the chemical industry. He expressed an interest in creating a congressional chemistry caucus to provide information and resources to interested colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I said that ACS could help.

I brought this information to the ACS Office of Public Affairs (OPA) staff, who began working with Rep. Moolenaar to create the Congressional Chemistry Caucus. After several months of work, the caucus is becoming a reality. The mission of the caucus is to educate members of Congress, their staffs, and the public on the benefits of chemistry in today’s society and its economic impact on our country.

So you may be asking, “What’s a congressional caucus?” It’s a group of members of the U. S. Congress that meets to pursue common legislative objectives. The most common caucuses consist of Congressional members united as an interest group, and they are often bipartisan, comprising both Democrats and Republicans, and bicameral, comprising both senators and representatives.

In a letter to House of Representatives colleagues inviting them to join the Congressional Chemistry Caucus, Rep. Moolenaar shared that “Chemistry supports 800,000 jobs in the U.S. and is responsible for 17% of all U.S. patents … Chemistry provides the basis for many industries in the United States and around the world. Advances in chemistry have helped provide clean drinking water to underserved areas, improve the energy efficiency in our home, ensure the safety of our troops in battle, and identify new ways to fight chronic disease. It is the fundamental building block of life.” The caucus will be bipartisan and, although the focus right now is on getting it firmly established in the House, eventually it will be bicameral as well.

The official launch of the caucus will be in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 27, and Congressman Moolenaar is cosponsoring the group with Congressman Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.). The kickoff event will be hosted by ACS, the American Chemistry Council, and the National Association of Chemical Distributors.

I never anticipated that my meeting with Representative Moolenaar would lead to such an exciting outcome. Although this outcome is atypical, it’s just one example of the power of ACS member engagement. This wasn’t my first meeting with my elected officials, and through working with CCPA I have learned that reaching out to my congressional delegation at regular intervals to share information about science and technology issues is important and meaningful.

This isn’t as difficult as it may sound. ACS has a wealth of resources that will help prepare you to have a conversation with your elected officials. The easiest way to get started is to sign up for the ACS Act4Chemistry network at www.act4chemistry.org, and for policy related updates via Twitter, please follow @act4chemistry. On the OPA website (www.acs.org/policy), you’ll find an advocacy toolkit with tips on how to use the Act4Chemistry network, as well as other helpful resources.

As any reader of C&EN knows, today’s chemical enterprise faces both enormous challenges and possibilities for growth. As chemists, we need to communicate with our elected representatives about the importance of science in keeping our country competitive in the global market. We need to reinforce the role that investment in R&D plays in homeland security, sustainability, and energy. We need to emphasize that U.S. strength in science and technology and in manufacturing will impact the numbers and kinds of jobs we have in the future—not just for chemists, but for everyone. ACS policy statements cover a range of topics related to fostering innovation, strengthening education and the workforce, sustainability, and science and openness. Legislators are interested in our opinions as their constituents, and they need the information that we can provide.

CCPA and OPA stand ready to provide you with the tools and training you need. Stay tuned for more news about the Congressional Chemistry Caucus; growing caucus membership in the House of Representatives, and eventually in the Senate, will be critical to its success. The newly formed caucus is an exciting development, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. CCPA looks forward to working with ACS members to advocate on ACS public policy priorities across the board.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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