White House ETIPC Releases Policy Principles Concerning Regulation and Oversight of Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials

On June 9, 2011, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced that the White House Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee (ETIPC) has developed a set of principles specific to the regulation and oversight of applications of nanotechnology. The principles are intended to guide the development and implementation of policies, as described in the title “U.S. Decision-making Concerning Regulation and Oversight of Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials” that occur at the agency level. According to OSTP, the principles reinforce the overarching principles for the regulation and oversight of emerging technologies released on March 11, 2011. The principles also reflect recommendations from a report on nanotechnology prepared by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and, importantly, reflect the results of a multi-agency, consensus-based process lead by the National Economic Council (NEC), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OSTP, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). OSTP states that the goals of all of these documents “are to achieve consistent approaches across different emerging technologies and to ensure the protection of public health and the environment while avoiding unjustifiably inhibiting innovation, stigmatizing new technologies, or creating trade barriers.”

Obama Administration Sets Forth Principles for Regulation and Oversight of Emerging Technologies

March 11, 2011, memorandum from the White House Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee (ETIPC) sets forth the Obama Administration’s principles for regulation and oversight of emerging technologies, including nanotechnology. The ETIPC Co-Chairs include John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP); Cass R. Sunstein, Administrator, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Office of Management and Budget (OMB); and Islam A. Siddiqui, Chief Agricultural Negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative.

 The memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies outlines the following broad principles intended to guide the development and implementation of policies for oversight of emerging technologies at the agency level:

  • Scientific Integrity: Federal regulation and oversight of emerging technologies should be based on the best available scientific evidence;
  • Public Participation: To the extent feasible, relevant information should be developed with ample opportunities for stakeholder involvement and public participation;
  • Communication: The federal government should actively communicate information to the public regarding the potential benefits and risks associated with new technologies;
  • Benefits and Costs: Federal regulation and oversight of emerging technologies should be based on an awareness of the potential benefits and the potential costs of such regulation and oversight;
  • Flexibility: Federal regulation and oversight should provide sufficient flexibility to accommodate new evidence and learning and to take into account the evolving nature of information related to emerging technologies and their applications;
  • Risk Assessment and Risk Management: Risk assessment should be distinguished from risk management;
  • Coordination: Federal agencies should seek to coordinate with one another, with state authorities, and with stakeholders to address the breadth of issues associated with the commercialization of an emerging technology, in an effort to craft a coherent approach;
  • International Cooperation: The federal government should encourage coordinated and collaborative research across the international community; and
  • Regulation: The federal government should adhere to President Obama’s January 21, 2011, Executive Order 13563 and, consistent with that Order, the following principles when regulating emerging technologies:
  • Decisions should be based on the best reasonably obtainable scientific, technical, economic, and other information;
  • Regulations should be developed with a firm commitment to fair notice and to public participation;
  • The benefits of regulation should justify the costs;
  • Where possible, regulatory approaches should promote innovation while also advancing regulatory objectives, such as protection of health, the environment, and safety;
  • When no significant oversight issue based on a sufficiently distinguishing attribute of the technology or the relevant application can be identified, agencies should consider the option not to regulate;
  • Where possible, regulatory approaches should be performance-based and provide predictability and flexibility in the face of fresh evidence and evolving information; and
    Regulatory approaches shall comply with established requirements and guidance.

President Obama Requests Additional Funding for NNI

Under the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request submitted by President Obama to Congress on February 14, 2011, funding for the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) would increase by $201 million, to $2.1 billion. According to an Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) fact sheet, agencies participating in the NNI have developed three signature initiatives in areas ready for advances through close and targeted program-level interagency collaboration: Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond; Sustainable Manufacturing: Creating the Industries of the Future; and Nanotechnology for Solar Energy Collection and Conversion. Participating agencies will continue to support nanoscience and nanotechnology development through investigator-led research; multidisciplinary centers of excellence; education and training; and infrastructure and standards development. In addition, OSTP states, agencies will still maintain a focus on the responsible development of nanotechnology, with attention to potential human and environmental health impacts, as well as ethical, legal, and other societal issues. At a February 14, 2011, news briefing for reporters, OSTP Director John Holdren said budget reductions proposed by Republicans in Congress could be damaging if applied to federal research funding.

NNI Releases 2011 Strategic Plan

This week the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released the 2011 NNI Strategic Plan. According to NNI, the Plan retains the “overall vision,” four goals, and eight program component areas outlined in the previous edition of the Plan, which was released in December 2007. For the first time, the Plan includes specific objectives under each goal, outlining concrete steps that NNI member agencies will take toward collectively achieving the NNI vision and goals.  NNI member agencies will use the Plan to guide the coordination of their research, training programs, and resources. NNI states that the Plan incorporates a broad rage of stakeholder input obtained through NNI-sponsored workshops, a formal Request for Information published in the Federal Register, and the NNI Strategy Portal website.

Draft NNI EHS Research Strategy Available for Comment

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council request comments regarding the draft National Nanotechnology Initiative 2011 Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Strategy (Strategy). The draft Strategy describes the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s (NNI) environmental, health, and safety (EHS) vision and mission, the state of the science, and the research needed to achieve the vision.  It represents the consensus of the participating agencies on how to promote the responsible development of nanotechnology by providing guidance to federal agencies as they develop their agency-specific research priorities, strategies, and implementation plans to achieve this vision.  It describes the goals and research needs for five science topics that shape EHS research (nanomaterial measurement infrastructure, human exposure assessment, human health, environment, and risk assessment and risk management methods) and evaluates the state of the science for each of these topics.  The draft Strategy also includes an analysis of the fiscal year 2009 federal EHS research portfolio and identifies concepts and approaches to accelerate the pace of research in this crucial area.  The 2011 plan will update and replace the 2008 NNI EHS Research Strategy. Comments are due January 6, 2011.

OSTP Issues Request for Information on the NNI

On July 6, 2010, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) published a Request for Information (RFI) on the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). According to OSTP, the purpose of the RFI is to enhance the value of the NNI “by reaching out to the nanotechnology stakeholder community for specific input for the next NNI Strategic Plan to be published in December 2010.  The RFI refers to the NNI goals identified from the 2007 Strategic Plan as a starting point for questions covering themes such as research priorities, investment, coordination, partnerships, evaluation, and policy. OSTP states that it is interested in responses that address one or more of its questions, which are broadly categorized under goals and objectives; research priorities; investment; coordination and partnerships; evaluation; and policy, as related to the NNI.  Responses are due August 15, 2010.  OSTP states that submissions prior to the July 13-14, 2010, NNI Strategic Plan Stakeholder Workshop “may also inform dialogues” at the Workshop. OSTP intends to hold an “online public comment eventJuly 13-August 15, 2010, to solicit input on the NNI Strategic Plan.

House Bill Would Reauthorize NNI

On May 28, 2010, the House passed, by a vote of 262-150, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 5116), which would authorize funding for the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science activities. The bill includes language from H.R. 554, the NNI Amendments Act of 2009, which the House passed in February 2009. H.R. 5116 would require NNI to work toward developing “standards related to methods and procedures for detecting, measuring, monitoring, sampling, and testing engineered nanoscale materials for environmental, health, and safety impacts.” The bill would fund research on “green nanotechnology” by creating research centers that would focus on methods and approaches to develop environmentally benign nanoscale products and nanoscale manufacturing processes; foster the transfer of the results of such research to industry; and provide for the education of scientists and engineers through interdisciplinary studies in the principles and techniques for the design and development of environmentally benign nanoscale products and processes. The bill would create a position, within the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), for a Coordinator for Societal Dimensions of Nanotechnology. The Coordinator would ensure that a research plan for the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) research activities is developed, updated, and implemented.

New OSTP Group Will Address Nanotechnology Issues

During the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s (NNI) March 30-31, 2010, conference regarding “Risk Management Methods & Ethical, Legal, and Societal Implications of Nanotechnology,” Tom Kalil, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), announced that the OSTP would create a new interagency group on emerging technologies, including nanotechnology. Kalil’s announcement is reported in an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) policy alert, which notes that OSTP intends the group to provide agencies a forum in which to discuss emerging policy issues.

ECOS Wants to Participate in NSET Subcommittee Working Groups

In an August 7, 2009, letter to the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy (OSTP), the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) expressed its interest in working with OSTP and other federal agencies regarding the “human health and ecological impacts and lifecycle consequences of intentional and unintentional releases of engineered nanoparticles into the environment.” According to ECOS, state environmental agencies want to participate in national efforts to develop best assessment and management practices. ECOS suggests that one option is for ECOS to join one or more of the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee Working Groups within the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) framework. ECOS asked OSTP for a meeting, “preferably this summer,” to obtain feedback on its key areas of interest and to discuss the best opportunities for its involvement in national efforts.

GAO Testifies Before Senate Subcommittee on the Accuracy of Data Concerning Federally Funded EHS Research

On April 24, 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled Nanotechnology: Accuracy of Data on Federally Funded Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Could Be Improved, which contains the testimony of Robert A. Robinson, Managing Director, Natural Resources and Environment, before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Innovation. Robinson provided a summary of GAO’s findings as reported in its March 31, 2008, report entitled Nanotechnology: Better Guidance Is Needed to Ensure Accurate Reporting of Federal Research Focused on Environmental, Health, and Safety Risks. GAO was asked to focus on: (1) the extent to which selected agencies conducted environmental, health, and safety (EHS) research in fiscal year (FY) 2006; (2) the reasonableness of the agencies’ and the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s (NNI) processes to identify and prioritize EHS research; and (3) the effectiveness of the agencies’ and the NNI’s process to coordinate EHS research. According to NNI, in FY 2006, federal agencies devoted $37.7 million -- or three percent of the $1.3 billion total nanotechnology research funding -- to research primarily focused on the EHS risks of nanotechnology, according to the NNI. GAO found that about 20 percent of this total could not actually be attributed to this purpose, however. GAO states that 22 of the 119 projects identified as EHS in FY 2006 were not primarily related to understanding the extent to which nanotechnology may pose an EHS risk. Instead, many of the projects focused on how to use nanotechnology to remediate environmental damage or detect hazards not related to nanotechnology. GAO states that, at the time of its review, federal agencies and NNI were in the process of identifying and prioritizing EHS risk research needs, and the overall process they were using appeared reasonable. NNI also was engaged in an iterative prioritization effort through its Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications (NEHI) working group. NEHI identified five general research categories as a priority for federally funded research. GAO found that most of the research projects that were underway in FY 2006 were generally consistent with agency and NEHI priorities. NEHI released its new EHS research strategy on February 13, 2008. According to GAO, agency and NNI processes to coordinate activities related to potential EHS risks of nanotechnology have been generally effective. In its March 2008 report, GAO recommended better guidance to improve the accuracy of data reported by NNI. Although the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) asserted that it provides extensive guidance, it agreed to review how the agencies respond to the current guidance. Robinson made no new recommendations in his statement before the Subcommittee.

Bush Administration Releases Principles for Nanotechnology Environmental, Health, and Safety Oversight

On November 8, 2007, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a memorandum regarding “Principles for Nanotechnology Environmental, Health, and Safety Oversight.” According to the memorandum, OSTP and CEQ “led a multi-agency consensus-based process” to develop principles intended to guide the development and implementation of policies for nanotechnology environmental, health, and safety oversight at the agency level.  The memorandum says that federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) “must implement sound policies to protect public health and the environment,” and “agencies that perform nanotechnology research and development or that use nanotechnology in accomplishing their mission must provide appropriate oversight.”

The memorandum states that these agencies should follow the following principles in developing policies for environmental, health, and safety oversight related to nanotechnology:

  • Purpose:  Federal oversight approaches should be cognizant of the potential benefits of nanotechnology, including health, economic, and environmental benefits, while recognizing uncertainties surrounding the evolving science and technology.  The purpose of considering environmental, health, and safety oversight approaches in the context of nanotechnology is to protect human health and the environment.
  • Current Understanding:  The federal government’s current understanding is that existing statutory authorities are adequate to address oversight of nanotechnology and its applications.  As with any developing area, as new information becomes available the federal government will adapt or develop additional oversight approaches, as necessary, to address the area of nanotechnology.
  • Information Development:  Adequate information should be developed with respect to the effects of nanomaterials on human health and the environment.  To the extent practicable and respecting confidential information (e.g., Confidential Business Information (CBI)), this information should be developed in an open and transparent manner by stakeholders, including the federal government and developers of nanomaterials.
  • Risk Assessment and Risk Management:  The federal government should use standard oversight approaches to assess risks and benefits, and manage risks, considering safety, health and environmental impacts, and exposure mitigation.  As experience is gained, these approaches can be refined.  The federal government should strive to reach an appropriate level of consistency in risk assessment and management approaches across the government.
  • International:  Recognizing the global efforts to develop nanotechnology, the federal government should proactively promote international cooperation.  The federal government should encourage coordinated and collaborative health and environmental research and test data development across the international community.  The federal government should also promote access to information across the international community.  These efforts will allow the federal government to contribute to, and take advantage of, risk assessment and risk management approaches, as appropriate, across the international community.
  • Regulatory Path Forward:  In light of the “Purpose” of oversight as described above, the federal government should consider the following, to the extent permitted by law and where applicable, in establishing environmental, health, and safety regulations for nanotechnology: