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US infrastructure bill crosses the finish line

Legislation is a mixed bag for the chemical industry

by Britt E. Erickson , Craig Bettenhausen , Cheryl Hogue
November 11, 2021

An electric car plugged into a charger.
Credit: Shutterstock
Funding for electric vehicle charging stations gets a boost under an infrastructure bill passed by Congress on Nov. 5.

After months of negotiations, Democrats in the US House of Representatives secured enough votes on Nov. 5 to pass a $550 billion infrastructure bill. President Joe Biden plans to sign the bill at a Nov. 15 ceremony, the White House says. The legislation was cleared by the Senate in August but stalled in the House over objections from progressives who wanted to pair it with a separate $1.75 trillion social-spending bill.

The measure is not just about money for roads, bridges, rails, and rural broadband. It will also likely boost demand for chemical products needed for infrastructure development, including materials used by the electric vehicle and battery industries. But the chemical industry is not thrilled that the legislation will also reinstate a tax on chemicals to raise funds for cleaning up hazardous waste sites under the Superfund program.

The Superfund tax on feedstock chemicals expired in 1994. An analysis released earlier this year found that the Superfund trust fund has dwindled in the past 20 years, leading to postponed starts for 30 cleanups. The reinstated levy will take effect on Jul. 1, 2022, and run through the end of 2031. Tax rates per ton range from $9.74 for acetylene, butadiene, toluene, and several other petrochemicals, to 44 cents for potassium hydroxide.

The American Chemistry Council, a major US chemical industry group, says in a statement it is “dismayed” at the Superfund excise taxes. The affected materials are “used in manufactured goods, including those needed for infrastructure development and climate progress. Electric vehicle infrastructure, renewable energy, advanced coatings, energy-efficiency solutions, and water delivery and purification would be affected,” the ACC says.

The bill includes $7.5 billion to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations. The majority of that money can also be applied to infrastructure for other types of alternative vehicle fuels, including hydrogen, natural gas, and propane. The legislation also provides $2.5 billion for zero-emission school buses, a category that could include electric and hydrogen-fueled buses, along with another $2.5 billion each for low-emission school buses and ferries.

EV owners may not like a provision that provides $50 million to pilot test a per-mile fee for road use as a way to maintain funding for the federal highway system—which is currently funded by gasoline taxes—as gas-fired engines lose their dominance in the automobile market.

The bill contains a mishmash of other provisions, including a nod to cannabis researchers that requires the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to make more varieties of cannabis products available for research, particularly to study impaired driving. Within 2 years, the agencies must present Congress with a report on how they plan to allow researchers access to cannabis products that are representative of what is in the market.


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