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Chemistry in the 116th Congress

By Michael Parr, Managing Director, HillStaffer, LLC

Chemistry enables the global economy. All of the plastics we encounter in daily life, that’s chemistry. The medicines we take, that’s chemistry. The consumer products that clean our homes, cars and bodies, that’s chemistry. The insulation and energy storage batteries that keep our home insulated and warm and facilitate renewable energy integration into the power grid, that’s chemistry as well.

Chemistry underlies millions of jobs in the manufacturing of products and in the retail businesses that sell those products. So much of what Congress does touches on chemistry. But occasionally Congress addresses chemistry issues in more specific ways, and this Congress is poised to address several major chemistry issues.

EPA Implementation of TSCA Reforms – In 2016 Congress passed and President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, the first major rewrite of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the primary U.S. chemicals’ control law, since its passage in 1976. The changes to TSCA were extensive and recast our nation’s chemicals regulations as a much more proactive regime. EPA’s implementation of the new law has seen significant criticism from both industry and civil society. Chemical companies have been very concerned about the pace of approval of new chemicals under the new law, so EPA has taken steps to speed the approval process. Civil society groups are concerned that the increased pace of approvals represents policy decisions that are weaker than the requirements of the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Century Act. Under the new law EPA is also required to assess the safety of existing chemicals in commerce and regulate them further if needed to ensure safety; these assessments and proposed regulations are sure to spark controversy. These controversies provide fertile ground for Congressional oversight, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee has made clear that it intends extensive oversight of EPA’s implementation of the TSCA reforms.

Sustainable Chemistry – One of the major trends in chemistry in recent years is a move towards progressively “greener” or more sustainable chemistry. A bipartisan bill to bring better federal Research & Development (R&D) attention to the topic of sustainable chemistry is expected to be introduced in both the House and Senate this year. The Sustainable Chemistry R&D Act would create a coordinating entity in the White House to lay out a vision for Federal support of sustainable chemistry R&D and to coordinate related activities across federal departments and agencies. The bill would provide a central point of contact for the private sector and civil society to identify future needs in sustainable chemistry, such as areas where more sustainable alternatives will be needed, to help better coordinate federal R&D in areas of greatest relevance for consumer interests.

Ingredient Safety and Transparency – Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in the Senate and the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House are preparing to reintroduce the Personal Care Products Safety Act, a TSCA-like bill establishing greater rigor in the regulation of cosmetics and other personal care products ingredients, including required safety assessments for a number of currently common ingredients. Additionally, the Senate is developing a cleaning products ingredients disclosure bill in response to industry desire for a uniform ingredients transparency framework. Several states, including California and New York, have taken actions to regulate ingredient disclosure in cleaning products, raising concerns about multiple regulatory programs with differing requirements. The Senate bill would create a uniform national standard.

PFAS – Lastly, there is significant bipartisan legislative attention to the issue of the perfluorinated substances termed PFAS, environmentally persistent chemicals found widely in groundwater due to industrial emissions and in firefighting foams used in firefighter training for civilian and military applications. These efforts seek to expand monitoring for PFAS, set drinking water and cleanup standards, and encourage federal cleanup efforts.

So, whether your interest is in scientific and chemistry innovation, health and safety, environmental quality or industrial and consumer markets this will be a busy Congress.