Statement on Federal Government Role in 21st Century Environmental Protection

ACS Position Statement


The ACS Statement on Federal Government Role in 21st Century Environmental Protection supports federal government incentives for the implementation of sustainable technologies and recommends incentives include regulatory flexibility, tax incentives, and research support.

ACS Position

Ideas about the best ways to protect the environment and human health and safety have evolved considerably over the last 30 years. In the 1960s, America's attention was drawn to a series of particularly dramatic environmental problems. Increasing public concern led to the passage of landmark laws that focused on cleaning up the most obvious examples of environmental pollution through rigid "command and control" of industrial and government facilities to reduce end-of-pipe sources of pollution. As the focus of U.S. environmental policy is shifting to subtler and more persistent environmental concerns, more proactive strategies are required to meet these challenges.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) believes that the principles of pollution prevention, environmental sustainability, and green chemistry will complement traditional regulatory strategies to minimize and avoid future pollution. Because chemistry and chemical products fuel the economy of every industrialized nation, the tools and strategies chemists and chemical engineers develop will be instrumental in meeting the dual challenges of protecting the environment and strengthening the economy.

Significant barriers can impede investment in and adoption of sustainable technologies. Although the long-term economic benefits of sustainable technologies, such as reduced regulatory and waste disposal costs, can be significant, some businesses can be placed at a near-term competitive disadvantage because the up-front costs of adopting such technologies can be high.

To effectively address this dilemma, the federal government should provide incentives for the implementation of sustainable technologies. Policy tools that the government could and should invoke to accomplish pollution prevention objectives include:

  • Providing appropriate regulatory flexibility for the superior environmental performance obtained when clean technologies are employed
  • Enhancing tax incentives that allow businesses to justify spending on research, development, and adoption of new technologies and processes to accomplish pollution prevention objectives
  • Providing grants in support of the research and development of new environmentally benign processes and technologies by universities, industry, and government
  • Developing programs to facilitate sharing of information and ideas about preventing pollution and applications of new technologies
  • Guaranteeing preferential government purchasing of safer technologies
  • Organizing and promoting award programs, such as the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, which recognize businesses that incorporate pollution prevention into their overall goals and objectives

Financial incentives are among the most effective strategies for encouraging changes in behavior by individuals and institutions. For instance, tax incentives can allow new, greener technologies to compete in the marketplace particularly when their up-front costs are higher than for conventional technologies and send a powerful signal to businesses and consumers about the importance of making such choices.

The ACS believes that chemists and chemical engineers will continue to develop new, environmentally sound technologies for the benefit of society. The ACS encourages policymakers to employ positive incentives to promote their rapid and widespread adoption.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization, chartered by Congress, with more than 160,000 chemical scientists and engineers as members. The world’s largest scientific society, ACS advances the chemical enterprise, increases public understanding of chemistry, and brings its expertise to bear on state and national matters.