Tuesday, 10 April 2012 09:27
April 10, 2012
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently canceled grant applications for a green chemistry program, a move that has prompted a strong reaction from the scientific community.
The EPA has previously announced it would accept applications for what officials said would be a four-year, $20 million green chemistry program. Engineers, scientists and other researchers have expressed their outrage over the abrupt decision to scrap the program, particularly as many groups have already submitted applications to the program, as the deadline for doing so was previously scheduled to be April 25.
Environmental Health News reports that EPA officials announced the cancelation of the program on Friday, though they did not elaborate over what factors had prompted the decision. Backers of the program initially said the government funding campaign would help spur the advancement of green chemistry through the establishment of two new academic centers.
The EPA said Monday that the requests for proposals may be reissued, but the government agency has been loath to comment over why, exactly, it scrapped what was likely to be a widely popular program. Some scientific labs had spent months developing their proposals, and researchers across the U.S. are puzzled over why the EPA has thus far failed to release additional information regarding its move to cancel the green chemistry initiative.
"My reaction is shock that it happened and total dismay that what appeared to be a novel program was canceled without warning or explanation," University of Pittsburgh chemist Eric Beckman said. He added that in his 20-year career he has not once witnessed a government agency so suddenly scrap an RFP. Yale University chemist Evan Beach echoed such a sentiment, decrying the government's reticence to release additional information.
The $20 million in federal funding would have been "one of the most significant sources of dedicated support for green chemistry so it is a blow to the community that the call for applications was cancelled without explanation," Beach said. "Everybody was in the home stretch on writing. The preparations took several months."
Aside from its announcement that it would no longer accept RFPS for the green chemistry program, the EPA has remained silent regarding the decision. Kelly Widener, the assistant director for research communications at the EPA's National Center for Environmental Research, said that the EPA could reissue the application program in June or July.
"Given the new and emerging research areas … EPA determined that it was necessary to further explore these research areas and also consider changes to its usual review process," she said.
The EPA announced the green chemistry program in December. While the EPA said it could reissue the RFP, some scientists expressed skepticism, affirming there has been such little information released that it is unclear whether the EPA has simply abandoned its plans to help fund any research within the industry over the next few years. What's more, others speculated that the green chemistry program may have been the victim of ongoing budget cuts in Washington, as public officials have continued to eye cuts to nearly every government-funded organization.
Green chemistry is a fledgling field in engineering research that aims to develop new, environmentally friendly chemicals and processes that could potentially replace conventional toxic ones. Scientists noted that the advancement of green chemistry research initiatives could help reduce energy use, improve efficiency and create safer consumer products.