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The Insider

Senate Hearings Signal Bipartisan Backing For ‘Green’ Energy, Chemistry

Despite deep divisions between Democrats and the GOP on many environmental issues, recent Senate hearings signal the potential for bipartisan agreement on policies to spur technological innovation and other moves that could boost “green” energy and chemistry.

Inside EPA’s Environment Next has exclusive coverage of federal and state policies that are paving the way for new advances in environmental technology. Environment Next is a free service to our subscribers featuring wide-ranging looks at coming developments for environmental protection and policy, including interviews, in-depth reporting and profiles of key figures, companies and other groups that are reshaping regulation and private governance on air, water, waste and climate change. The features offer a new way of reporting about the shift from command-and-control regulation to innovative, market-based measures and other efforts, including voluntary and industry-led programs.

This week, the Senate commerce committee took a major step toward setting up a new White House program for sustainable chemistry that would align disparate federal research efforts into the discipline while convening state, industry, academic and environmentalist voices to further discussions on how to further their mutual goals:

‘Sustainable Chemistry’ Proponents See Momentum For Research Bill
Proponents of “sustainable chemistry” that aims to improve the efficiency and reduce the adverse environmental impact of chemical products say a Senate panel’s approval of a bill to promote federal research on the issue signals growing momentum for the legislation.

The panel unanimously approved S. 999, known as the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act (SCRDA), at a Nov. 14 meeting, paving the way for its consideration by the full Senate just weeks after a House committee approved that chamber’s version of the bill.

“I am optimistically hopeful” that the bills can pass both chambers and reach President Donald Trump’s desk during the current congress, Owen Caine, the Executive Vice President of Government Relations & Public Policy for the Household & Commercial Products Association, said in an interview with Environment Next.

“Sustainable chemistry” is a broad term that covers the design, development, demonstration, commercialization and/or use of chemicals and materials that qualify as less-toxic, energy-efficient, lower-polluting or lower-waste than their conventional alternatives.

But while support for sustainability is high across the chemicals sector, proponents have struggled to unify the movement behind any single set of principles or products, with many seeing SCRDA as an opportunity to create a unified process, led by an interagency “entity” at the White House that would sweep in stakeholders across the political spectrum. An amendment to the House bill adopted in committee would even task the entity with crafting a single definition for sustainable chemistry that could apply across the sector.

Just as the commerce committee showed off its unity on chemistry issues, bipartisan members of the Senate Energy Committee urged energy secretary nominee Dan Brouillette to refocus the Department of Energy’s work on advanced green-energy technology:

DOE Secretary Nominee Brouillette Vows To Push Advanced Technologies
Dan Brouillette, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next energy secretary, is vowing that as head of the Department of Energy (DOE) he would boost either funding or institutional focus on developing and commercializing advanced technologies ranging from carbon capture to miniaturized nuclear reactors in rural communities.

Brouillette, currently DOE’s deputy secretary, promised Republicans on the panel that he would continue or bolster the department’s work on carbon capture and commercializing experimental energy technology, while Democrats won pledges to research renewables.

“We’re looking for the next generation of solar panels. We’re looking for the next generation of wind technology, and storage,” Brouillette told Sen. Angus King (I-ME).

And he told energy committee Chairman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that if research into miniaturized nuclear reactors pays off, the emissions-free units would be well-suited for use in Alaska as well as other rural areas such as his native Louisiana.

“Small micro-reactors I think have a very bright future . . . but if we can make them even smaller” they could serve small communities even more easily, he said. “We’d not only be providing clean, reliable power, but we’re taking a good step forward in reducing carbon emissions.”

Also this week, Environment Next looked at the prospects for novel “sustainability linked loans” to address what critics say is the gulf between the finance sector’s embrace of environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) principles and the practical results of ESG investments:

‘Sustainability’ Loan Program Might Address Concerns Over ESG Investing
The European bank Crédit Agricole’s “Sustainability Linked Loan” program tying funds to verified sustainability measures by recipients is gaining traction with companies, offering a potential solution to concerns in the United States that the growing field of environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) investing has uncertain benefits.

The finance sector is increasingly adopting ESG practices, but investors and environmental groups have warned that it is difficult to ensure that ESG funding is going toward environmentally friendly work. Loans like Crédit Agricole’s, with mandates for the recipients to meet certain targets, could help resolve that dilemma.

We also examined a newly-published framework from the National Institute of Standards and Technology that could aid EPA’s efforts to use “big data” created by next-generation monitoring devices in its regulatory and enforcement work:

NIST Framework Could Help Address EPA’s ‘Big Data’ Challenges
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published a framework to help analysts process and interpret massive amounts of data, a development that could help EPA address its mounting challenges interpreting new types of data from emerging pollution monitoring technologies.

The Big Data Interoperability Framework could be key for EPA as it grapples with how to process an expected huge amount of information generated by new sensors, social media, and other digital technologies.

“We’re hoping the framework will enable data scientists to spend more time on the data” and analysis, Wo Chang, NIST’s data coordinator and digital data advisor for the NIST Information Technology Laboratory, said in an interview with Environment Next.

Finally, we profiled entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Yang’s environmental platform in his run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, starting with his controversial claim that we are too late to avoid at least some catastrophic climate change impacts and that society will have no choice but to “move to higher ground” to escape its effects:

Election 2020: Andrew Yang
Andrew Yang is embracing his status as an outsider candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 and applying it to his environmental agenda, floating climate proposals that are more extreme and unconventional that his rivals -- such as the idea that severe climate change is all but certain and society must “move to higher ground."

Yang is proposing major investments in flood and wildfire resiliency alongside a new fund that would support private citizens looking to move away from areas vulnerable to climate change-fueled disasters. He is also pushing a slate of emissions reductions and net-zero greenhouse gas releases by 2049, but even there he is taking a different stance from his rivals, as a Yang administration would look to boost not just renewables but nuclear power, including a wave of new plants, including some based on fusion technology and others fueled by thorium rather than uranium.

Those positions could help him stand out from the field at the Nov. 20 Democratic debate, where he will take the stage in Atlanta, GA, alongside nine other candidates.

Environment Next will continue its coverage of federal efforts to boost development of new environmental-protection technology, and to adapt its work to those advances in turn.