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What Election 2016 means for the chemistry enterprise

Less federal research funding and regulation expected; expansion of legal marijuana could be a boon for analytical testing companies

by Cheryl Hogue , Britt Erickson
November 9, 2016

Credit: Shutterstock
President-elect Donald Trump
Credit: Shutterstock
President-elect Donald Trump

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and a Republican-controlled Congress portend significant impacts to the chemistry enterprise.

Given Republican's campaign statements, academic researchers are likely to feel a federal research funding pinch while the chemical industry could benefit from new energy policies and relaxed regulation.

“It is too early to tell what his defined policies and approaches will be toward science,” says Glenn S. Ruskin, director of public affairs for the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN. 

With Trump in the White House and fiscally conservative Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress, cuts in federal spending are likely. This means chemistry researchers are apt to see the dwindling of federal grant money from the National Science Foundation, the Energy Department, and other federal agencies.

ACS will underscore to Trump’s transition team the importance of robust federal investments in R&D, science, technology, engineering and math education, and other efforts that support innovation, Ruskin says. He says the society is recommending that Trump “retain top scientific talent for key agency posts.” 

Budget cuts sought by Republicans could also limit federal regulatory agencies, which could trammel the chemical industry’s expectations for modernized regulation of its products. If its resources are tightly limited, the Environmental Protection Agency might struggle to implement Congress’ revisions earlier this year to the Toxic Substances Control Act, which had strong backing of the chemical sector.

Trump has been quiet on the topic of chemical regulation, with one exception. He has spoken out about the benefits of asbestos, a known human carcinogen that activists are calling on EPA to ban under its new authorities. The chemical industry is calling for continued use of asbestos, which is used in some chlor-alkali plants.


“Scientific advances do require long term investment. This is why we must have programs such as a viable space program and institutional research that serve as incubators to innovation and the advancement of science and engineering in a number of fields.”

“Scientific advances do require long term investment. This is why we must have programs such as a viable space program and institutional research that serve as incubators to innovation and the advancement of science and engineering in a number of fields.”

Trump answers 20 questions on science

During the campaign, Trump described his positions on key problems facing the science community. Here’s what he had to say.

On energy, the president-elect has pledged to overturn the Obama Administration’s keystone climate change regulation: the Clean Power Plan to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel-fired electricity-generating plants. Trump supports domestic coal mining. He has said he will restore jobs in that industry, many of which have been lost to the recent boom in cheap natural gas due to fracking.

The chemical industry has benefitted significantly from abundant natural gas. The leading lobbying group of the U.S. chemical industry, the American Chemistry Council, says, “The business of chemistry will be a partner with leaders in Congress and the Trump/Pence administration to ensure the right policies are in place to support robust and responsible energy and infrastructure development.”

Chemical stocks, like most of the market, were up modestly after the election. Laurence Alexander, a stock analyst at Jefferies, says Trump’s plans to relax EPA regulations would likely be viewed as a net positive for the chemical sector. A firm such as FMC would benefit from moves to reduce the regulatory cost of launching new agricultural chemicals. But plastics producers could suffer if Trump softens auto fuel-efficiency standards, which boost demand for lightweight polymers.

Meanwhile, the president-elect has repeatedly called climate change a hoax and has pledged to “cancel” the 2015 Paris Agreement, which calls for virtually every country on Earth to control greenhouse gas emissions. But John Morton, senior director for climate and energy at the National Security Council, says momentum for the Paris deal is strong, with international businesses already shifting investments from fossil fuels to more climate-friendly technologies.

Trump has also vowed to act against an international issue dear to the U.S. chemical industry—major trade agreements. Chemical manufacturers, which constitute the one of the nation’s largest exporting sectors, backed the Obama Administration’s efforts to hammer out trade deals with Pacific Rim and European trading partners.

Meanwhile, in state elections, the outcome of several ballot initiatives will foster the legal marijuana industry that uses chemical products and employs chemists.

This industry is poised to continue its rapid growth in the U.S. Voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada legalized recreational cannabis this year, joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia. More than half of all U.S. states have legalized cannabis for medical purposes and four additional states—Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota—voted in favor of medical marijuana this year. Experts predict that the cannabis industry will continue growing rapidly and become a $32 billion industry by 2020.

2016 U.S. Election: Cannabis legalization
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
The legal marijuana industry will continue to grow rapidly as a result of state elections.

Note: Montana legalized medical uses in 2004, but imposed restrictions in 2009.

Cannabis comes in many different forms—flowers or buds that are smoked, baked goods like brownies and cookies, oils, waxes, and other products.  This large variety of different kinds of cannabis products makes quality control a challenge, particularly when it comes to pesticides.

States are on their own to set safe levels of pesticides on marijuana. They are getting no help from the EPA, which generally evaluates pesticides for safety, because the federal government categorizes marijuana as a controlled substance with no accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse.

In an election outcome not yet final, the plastics industry appears to have lost its campaign against the nation’s only statewide ban of single-use plastic bags. In a California ballot initiative, voters affirmed the state’s prohibition, which state lawmakers passed in 2014 with support from environmental activists and the grocery industry.

The American Plastic Bag Alliance, founded by The Society of the Plastics Industry, a plastics trade association, unsuccessfully fought the ban. Hilex Poly, Formosa Plastics, Superbag, and Advance Polybag collectively spent $6 million to defeat the ban, according to MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization. 

UPDATE: This article was updated on Nov. 10, 2016, to include additional reaction and analysis.



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Rich Hoff (November 9, 2016 1:41 PM)
So chemists need to be concerned that the Trump victory will roll back climate regulations and revisions to TSCA that materially harm our industry and may even blunt (pun intended) the growing legal cannabis movement? Right. Got it.
Bill Howard (November 9, 2016 1:50 PM)
The recreational use of marijuana is a federal crime. I pray that the American people will urge their congressional leaders and President Trump to enforce the law. Unless it is stopped, the widespread use of marijuana will destroy our nation.

May GOD have mercy on America and stop this plague!

M. Saad (November 9, 2016 2:23 PM)
Thank you Bill Howard. Young people don't understand the consequences of using marijuana until their brains, and health, are already damaged, which they will suffer from at older (30+) age.
John M (November 9, 2016 2:28 PM)
Yeah, we should just make drugs illegal. Why hasn't anyone thought of that before?
Jenn S. (November 9, 2016 4:50 PM)
Or maybe everyone will just become really calm, cordial, and happy, if a little fatter.
Tristan (November 10, 2016 5:21 AM)
And what about alcohol? Besides, usa is the country of freedom no ? So you can have a gun in your pocket but smoking weed is gonna destroy the country ? Not convinced... This is more about hypocrisy
giorn (November 10, 2016 9:57 AM)
The use of marijuana is widespread and has been since before it was scheduled. Good luck stopping it with laws, it hasn't worked. The legal system is bogged down by senseless convictions for cannabis possession, and potential tax earnings on cannabis sales have been collected by gangs instead. The drug itself has proven to be less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, which are a mainstay in America. States with progressive laws on cannabis (eg. Colorado) have not suffered in the wake of legally available cannabis. Furthermore, if you want to put a non-secular spin on the argument, God put cannabis on the planet. Perhaps it was intended to be used to reach higher levels of spirituality. The majority voted to legalize marijuana in these states, and just like we have to swallow the awful reality of Trump, you will have to put aside your fears about cannabis and accept state laws. Or move to one of the many states who maintain irrational laws against cannabis.
Maxanne Most (November 10, 2016 11:40 AM)
What is the difference between legal marijuana and legal alcohol - both can have devastating side effect & unintended consequences when misused. If alcohol is legal marijuana should be legal.
MP (November 10, 2016 12:16 PM)
That was the same logic from Prohibition. Just because alcohol is legal doesn't mean that everybody is a worthless booze-hound. Have some faith in people's ability to choose for themselves. Apparently God has that faith in his children, why can't you?
Robert A Putfark (November 9, 2016 2:01 PM)
I agree with Bill Howard. Perhaps our new President will enforce our federal laws, encouraging ALL Americans to obey the law!
Will Mardis (November 10, 2016 1:31 PM)
We can only hope…
Jonathan Leder (November 9, 2016 2:01 PM)
May GOD have mercy and forgive America for the horrible choice it made yesterday, and it has nothing to do with marijuana. God, for all His mystery, is not a hater or racist, and does not choose to decimate this Earth He so graciously crafted for us.
Stuart Taylor (November 9, 2016 11:50 PM)
"May GOD have mercy and forgive America for the horrible choice it made yesterday" This is almost exactly what I said on the nights of the election in 2008 and 2012.
E.G. Meyer (November 9, 2016 2:12 PM)
Interestingly the chemical industry and Big Pharma gave Clinton considerably more money than they gave Trump. In other words they bet on the party against which they continually complained for promulgating unreasonable rules and regulations. As to research money, the real inhibitor is the huge portion of the Federal budget needed to pay fixed costs (including interest on the $20,000,000,000,000 external debt, which obviously does not include the internal debt). The result is that the "available" money for such things as research is very tightly squeezed. Still I believe that research will continue to get Congressional support. Perhaps at this time it would be well for C&EN (and its like) to be more evenly balanced in its political views and reviews
Levi Burrows (November 9, 2016 2:14 PM)
I think it's poor form for C&EN to take a political stance and use fear mongering to back its political opinion. I thought the ACS and C&EN were scientific associations and yet here's an article without any facts. It's only, Trump is bad, and using words like "could", "would" and "might".

If you're going to report like the biased media take me off the mailing list.
Levi Burrows (November 9, 2016 2:22 PM)
Thank you C&EN, I have now completely lost faith in you as a credible source.
Mick Russom (November 9, 2016 2:27 PM)
I'd like to point out the political rubbish C&EN started under Rudy Baum is why I stopped paying dues and stopped caring about C&EN. We all want more prosperity, clean air, clean environment and more safety. The whole lets make politicians either Good or Evil by the C&EN has not lead to accelerated progress. If you had just focused on science and progress rather than Rudy Baum, Bill Nye, deGrasse Tyson and the optics of all this stuff we would be further along. So much time and money has been wasted on politicizing science its sad. There is more optical diversity, token diversity but less thinking diversity and its slows everything down.
Valery Tsimmerman (November 9, 2016 3:27 PM)
I am so tired of political hacks infiltrating science!
This industry has nothing to loose, but its chains!
Neil Gardner (November 10, 2016 6:35 AM)
I fully agree with this. I too refuse to support ACS and C&EN as long as it pushes a political agenda. The points brought up here are more suited for pseudo-scientific tabloids on the store shelves.
Rudy Baum (November 14, 2016 5:31 PM)
God, I am so honored to included in the company of Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson! Thank you Mick! I'm personally glad you left.
Don Boyd (November 30, 2016 5:25 PM)
Rudy Baum's arrogance is on full display above.
C.M. Calab (December 17, 2016 4:22 PM)
I'm cancelling my subscription too and so are many others. Nice work!
C.M. Calab (November 9, 2016 2:49 PM)
Agreed with Mick Russom and E.G. Meyer. This is nothing but fear-mongering.
Bill Edens (November 9, 2016 3:22 PM)
I am in agreement with both Mick Russom and E.G. Meyer. Over the years I have become increasingly disappointed in the politically correct approach that ACS through C&EN has taken. It appears that ACS has become a political institution rather than one that promotes the development of science.
R. Jones (November 9, 2016 5:51 PM)
I also agree. C&EN needs to be unbiased toward either party.
Pavel Ilmenev (January 4, 2017 9:36 PM)
Where is the bias?
Don Boyd (November 9, 2016 2:53 PM)
As noted by contributors above, C&EN writers generally promote a liberal view. But they don't know what is going to happen to research funding under President Trump. I remember how C&EN writers and academics were besides themselves with giddiness after Obama was elected in 2008. The C&EN writers and academics thought Obama was going to be a savior. What actually happened? Research funding bumped up a lot in 2009, but then fell back to the level of George Bush's budgets and remained more or less flat since then.
james wollack (November 9, 2016 2:54 PM)
Could N and E news comment on how investment may be made in clean coal.This could be a positive for the chemical industry.
Cheryl Hogue (November 10, 2016 1:21 PM)
Great suggestion! As the Trump Administration forms its policy on coal, C&EN will definitely track efforts and funding of cleaner coal technologies.
Rik Vincence (November 9, 2016 3:34 PM)
I am a bit disappointed that in the absence of data, CEN has decided to hop on th fearmongering band wagon and malign a president-elect. We don't know what Trump will do for research expenditures or how he will respond to climate change. This fearmongering is unscientific. Makes me wonder if I can even trust CEN to comprehend how science is performed and use the logic inherent within the method to think through real life scenarios. Making guesses based on unknown politics is ignorant. CEN has adopted ignorance where knowledge should be.
Joseph A. D'Anna (November 9, 2016 3:50 PM)
This article and the above comments indicate why the US has lost its competitiveness. Each special interest group looks out for itself.

If we had sensible policies, strategies and adequate revenue to invest in US competitiveness, adequate defense, safe energy and environmental quality, we might all be more prosperous. They would also reduce the need for social programs.

Any government or industry that doesn't care about all of the people is not worth caring about.
Patrick Breen (November 9, 2016 3:51 PM)
I find this article to be incredibly negative liberal propaganda. It's not what I read C&EN for. Why not explore how Trump will BENEFIT the chemicals industry, and create more JOBS for chemists? We don't need more Rudy Baum-style political garbage from the left. I suggest your writers grow up and try to be more professional.
William Rubin (November 10, 2016 9:19 AM)
Well said Patrick Breen! I tire of these liberals spewing their filth. They need to get educated and grow up!
Benjamin Schroeder (November 10, 2016 12:47 PM)
Hi Patrick,
If you have a link to an article, video or another form of media that explains to me HOW Trump will create more jobs for chemists, I would love to check it out.
Ellis Gartner (November 9, 2016 3:54 PM)
To Bill Howard: Your God is not a member of the ACS and has no place in these discussions. Regarding plagues, if I recall, the Old Testament God (presumably the one you are referring to) was responsible for starting most of them! But marijuana is the least of our problems. The nation is more likely to be destroyed by President Trump, who believes in nothing other than himself and is totally ignorant about science. So American scientists might just as well get as high as kites now that Trump catastrophe is upon us - but we might need something stronger than marijuana to deal with that pain.
Ralf Schirrmacher (November 9, 2016 4:02 PM)
I really do not understand the fear about cannabis as a recreational drug (like cigarettes and alcoholic beverages). The Netherlands have legalized it for decades and as far as I know Holland is a thriving country with very happy and content citizens. Their crime rate is extremely low and American cities can only dream about being as save as cities in Holland. Cannabis certainly will not destroy the US especially not if it is legalized. Some people are simply afraid of everything they do not know. Sometimes it suits oneself to look beyond the US border to realize that the rest of the world is evolving too.
Brian Risch (November 9, 2016 4:04 PM)
Trump will not even be inaugurated for 71 days. Why start these gloom and doom predictions before the new administration is even given a chance? How could a Trump presidency be any worse for chemists than the Obama presidency? For the last several years real chemical industry wages and employment opportunities have been stagnant, and a primary goal of the ACS has been to improve things. Do the authors have a real expectation that more of the same government policies and executive orders will improve things? The ACS should be more concerned about the advancement of science and advancement of opportunities for those in the chemical industry than voicing a partisan opinion. If Trump fulfills his promises of bringing more industry to the US and increasing the overall economic growth rate, tax revenues will increase and more chemical R&D funding will be available through both government and industry. Also discussed is legalized marijuana which is less than a $5 billion industry (maybe $10 billion if broad peripheral businesses are included). According to "Year-End 2015 Chemical Industry Situation and Outlook" by the American Chemistry council, the $800 billion US chemical industry has been flat in the US for the past 5 years and legalized marijuana would account for less than 1%. Why so much focus on pot? Do we really think continuing the same policies that have stagnated the industry and focusing on fringe issues will help chemistry?
D. Arnold, Aerospace QA (November 9, 2016 5:41 PM)
Yesterday, We The People elected less government "help".

So with restored Liberty, may We audit our motivations and promptly realign our chosen disciplines, to better serve and lead, together.

As intended and to our Pursuit of Happiness (happenstance, or trade), may We also be guided to recover the definitions and postures, of the names of Science, Truth, and Innovation, from the devilish encumbrances of short-sighted opportunists, and long-term political entanglements.

Why did you first become a scientist? Let's do this.
Robin W Jones (November 9, 2016 6:41 PM)
Please know how important this is.....
W. Barton (November 9, 2016 8:05 PM)
If this is fear-mongering and propaganda, then you folks must scare really easily. What little we know about Trump's policy platform has some negative consequences for chemical industries. There isn't much to talk about in the way of potential benefits unless you start making things up, since he has offered basically no concrete solutions and speaks almost entirely in glittering generalities.
What I'm hearing is a few people upset that the article takes a realistic view of things instead of crowing about how great it is that their preferred candidate won, and who don't have an outlet for the anger they want to direct toward people who disagree with them politically that they have labeled enemies. Instead of impotently dumping this kind of stuff here, please take it to some discussion board somewhere and have a good old-fashioned internet argument and get it out of your respective systems. You're embarrassing yourselves. Or can you just not handle actually having someone disagree with you because you've grown too comfortable in whatever echo chambers of opinion you spend most of your time in?
And Bill, that ridiculous 'Reefer Madness' attitude just continues to put billions of dollars into the hands of cartels who commit real crimes instead of legitimate businesses that pay taxes and create jobs and wealth. Widespread use of cannabis hasn't 'destroyed our nation' for the last century, so I don't think it's going to magically start just because we stop wasting billions on unnecessary law enforcement that turns otherwise good, productive citizens into criminals. Frankly, I thought living fossils like you were pretty much extinct.
As for the article, it was okay. It was a little short on substance and arrives at some pretty obvious conclusions, but, as I mentioned earlier, they didn't have a lot to work with. Usually, the articles I read here are much more interesting and in-depth, but I guess they can't all be winners.
Levi Burrows (November 10, 2016 11:12 AM)
Your statement of "They didn't have much to go on" pretty much sums up the anger of the commenters your downing. WHO WRITES A SCIENTIFIC PAPER with "not much to go on"?

People are angry not because they disagree with who was elected. It's because there are already plenty of biased agencies that use rhetoric and hearsay to instill fear and hatred into the people. All while having NO SCIENTIFIC DATA!

People do not pay subscriptions to C&EN for their personal beliefs or opinions so their opinions DO NOT belong here!
P. Lee (November 10, 2016 3:34 PM)
This is not a scientific paper. This is a news article. C&EN is not a scientific journal, it's a trade magazine. Furthermore, I do not see anything in this article that might instill fear or hatred in anybody. The article cited both potential downfalls AND benefits based on Trump's previous campaign statements. If anything, the authors are assuming that President-elect Trump will stay true to his campaign promises.
S.Balasubramanian (November 9, 2016 9:53 PM)
The climate change has created problem for the entire humanity and other living beings in our planet.Paris agreement is an important to safeguard our survival and Trump should change his views and support this initiative to contain the emission of green house gases.
Thyagaraju K (November 9, 2016 11:49 PM)
The policy of any President will depend on the presentation of the material by the monitoring and regulating agency. I think every senator shall think about the funding to chemistry to see that the environment and people should be protected. Congratulations to the Winner.
Ellis Gartner (November 10, 2016 12:59 AM)
To Bill Howard: Your God is not a member of the ACS and has no place in these discussions. Regarding plagues, if I recall, the Old Testament God (presumably the one you are referring to) was responsible for starting most of them! But marijuana is the least of our problems. The nation is more likely to be destroyed by President Trump, who believes in nothing other than himself and is totally ignorant about science. So American scientists might just as well get as high as kites now that Trump catastrophe is upon us - but we might need something stronger than marijuana to deal with that pain.
Levi Burrows (November 10, 2016 11:40 AM)
Dear Webmaster,

When I was in college we were required to use “credible sources” in our scientific papers. One source I remember being suggested was C&EN, I used it and enjoyed it. I was disappointed when I received this publication in my email yesterday, not because I care for the candidate but because the article is completely bogus, slandering and un-scientific. Reading through the comments after a day, I can see that most readers share my frustration. I don’t understand why the ACS would promote such a hateful, unsubstantiated message on the heels of rioting and protests in our country.

Please remember who your subscribers are educated, professional and level-headed. Publishing this is the same as suggesting that your readers are ignorant, that they won’t look at the facts.
Benjamin Schroeder (November 10, 2016 12:35 PM)
I'm not sure why there is so much concern with this article and how it is written. C & E News has a responsibility to report on information that affects the chemical and engineering community. This election undoubtedly will have an effect. While catering to scientists, I do not feel it necessary for these articles to be formatted like a scientific paper. We are forced to use words like "likely" and "might" because we just don't know what Trump's policies will ultimately be. Additionally, I see nothing wrong with hypothesizing based upon his previous words and actions. Yes, Trump has stated several times that he is a denialist when it comes to climate change. Yes, Trump has spoken about a link between vaccines and autism. That said, all we can hope is that he surrounds himself with smart people and good advisers and that he can learn about science on the fly. So yes, government agencies "might" see a decrease in funding.....but they also "might" not. We just don't know yet.

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