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Green Chemistry

Sustainable chemistry legislation enacted by US Congress

Law will promote green chemistry concepts in federal grants

by Cheryl Hogue
January 5, 2021

Illustration shows a topiary Erlenmeyer flask against the background of the sky.
Credit: Shutterstock

The US government will more broadly promote the concept of green chemistry through legislation enacted Jan. 1.

Sustainable chemistry—an alternative term for green chemistry that federal legislators use—“can improve the efficiency with which natural resources are used to meet human needs for chemical products while avoiding environmental harm, reduce or eliminate the emissions of and exposures to hazardous substances, minimize the use of resources, and benefit the economy, people, and the environment,” the law says.

It encourages federal agencies to incorporate green chemistry requirements into grants they offer to academic researchers. Until now, the Environmental Protection Agency has been the main federal crusader for this concept, notably with its Green Chemistry Challenge Awards.

The new law recognizes that green chemistry discoveries and inventions “are important and essential for the mission of every agency from Energy to Agriculture, from Commerce to Defense, from the National Institutes of Health to the Environmental Protection Agency,” says Paul T. Anastas, director of the Center for Green Chemistry & Green Engineering at Yale. Anastas first laid out the principles of green chemistry with John Warner, now the president and chief technology officer of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.

“This legislation will increase innovation, coordination, and investment in green and sustainable chemistry,” says Glenn S. Ruskin, American Chemical Society vice president of external affairs and communications.

The law directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to convene a multiagency task force that will, for the first time, coordinate federal funding and promotion of sustainable chemistry research.

The law includes no additional federal research funding.

ACS, which publishes C&EN, backed the legislation, as did the GC3 Sustainable Chemistry Alliance, American Chemistry Council, American Sustainable Business Council, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, and Environmental Working Group.

“After years of careful design, the group of bipartisan lawmakers had the vision and willingness to work across party lines to craft a bill designed to provide a model for how we can address the transition to safer chemicals as we grow our economy,” the American Sustainable Business Council says in a statement.

The sustainable chemistry law is part of the National Defense Authorization Act of fiscal 2021, which funds the US military. It became law when Congress overrode President Donald J. Trump’s veto of the measure (H.R. 6395). Trump rejected the legislation in part because it renames military bases named after Confederate officers from the US Civil War and because it does not repeal a law that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by users.

The sustainable chemistry measure had bipartisan support before the Senate tacked it onto the military spending bill last summer.



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