Status of Nanotech Bills in the Lame Duck Session

Congress returned to DC on Monday 11/15/2010 to begin a "lame duck" session . Congress, in particular the Senate, will find their agendas crowed with debate on several bills that need to be voted on before adjourning sine die sometime in December. Therefore, it seemed a good time to review the status of the bills that would affect the nanotech field.

H.R. 554, the "National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act of 2009" was introduced by Rep. Bart Gordon on 01/15/2009 and was passed without amendment by the House on 02/11/2009. After being received in the Senate, H.R. 554 was assigned to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Technology. It hasnot been reported out for debate by the full Senate.

H.R. 554, among various provisions, would have amended the reporting requirements of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, directed the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office to create a publicly accessible database, created the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel as a distinct entity with a subpanel that would consider the social, ethical, legal, environmental and workplace impact of nanotechnolgy, required the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to designate an associate director of that office as the Coordinator for Societal Dimensions of Nanotechnology with various duties, and would have defined nanotechnology and nanoscale as

   NANOTECHNOLOGY- The term `nanotechnology' means the science and technology that will enable one to understand, measure, manipulate, and manufacture at the nanoscale, aimed at creating materials, devices, and systems with fundamentally new properties or functions.'; and

 

        (B) by adding at the end the following new paragraph:

 

      `(7) NANOSCALE- The term `nanoscale' means one or more dimensions of between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers.'.

     

H.R. 820, the "Nanotechnology Advancement and New Opportunities Act", was introduced by Rep. Michael Honda on 02/03/2009 and was referred to the House Committee on Science and Technology. Parts of the bill were also referred to the House Committees on Energy & Commerce, Ways and Means, and Homeland Security. H.R. 820 has not been reported out by any of these committees.

H.R. 820 would have had several significant impacts:

1) The Secretary of Commerce would have been directed to establish a "Nanomanufacturing Investment Program", using $100 million in private sector funds

2) Amended the Internal Revenue Code to allow tax credits for purchases of qualified nanotech developer stock and nanotech education and training programs

and 3) would have included commercial nanotech training providers as eligible educational institutions.

H.R. 2769 , the "Commercializing Small Business Research and Development Act", introduced by Rep, Bobby Bright on 06/09/2009, was referred to the House Committee on Small Business and the House Committee on Science and Technology. It was further referred to the Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology, which held a mark-up session on 06/11/2009. The Subcommittee forwarded the bill on to the full Committee. No further action has occured. H.R. 2769 would have included nanotechnology related topics within federal small business programs.

H.R. 4502 , the "Nanotechnology Education Act", introduced by Rep. David Wu on 01/26/2010, would require the Director of the National Science Foundation to establish a program to award grants to eligible secondary schools and colleges and informal educational centers

i) to acquire qualified nanotechnology equipment and software designed for teaching students about nanotechnology in the classroom;

 

          (ii) to develop and provide educational services, including carrying out faculty development, to prepare students or faculty seeking a degree or certificate that is approved by the State, or a regional accrediting body recognized by the Secretary of Education; and

 

          (iii) to provide teacher education and certification to individuals who seek to acquire or enhance technology skills in order to use nanotechnology in the classroom or instructional process.

         

H.R. 4502 was referred to the House Committee on Science and Technology and further referred to the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education. It has not been reported out of committee.

H.R. 5116, the "America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010", was introduced by Rep. Bart Gordon on 04/22/2010, was perhaps the most important bill introduced in the 111th Congress (at least to the nanotech community) and produced unexpectedly contentious House debate, discussed on this site earlier this year. Title I, "The National Nanotechnology Initiatives Amendment Act of 2010", is a duplicate of HR 554, discussed above. H.R. 5116 was passed by the House on 05/28/2010. Received in the Senate, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The Senate version of the America COMPETES Act, S. 3605, was introduced by Senator Jay Rockefeller on 07/15/2010 and was assigned to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which reported it favourably with an amendment in the nature of a substitute. The bill has not come up for debate by the full Senate. S. 3605 differs from H.R. 5116 by not having the "National Nanotechnology Initiatives Amendment Act" as part of its language. Should the bill come up for debate, it is possible that the Senate may add that language as a further amendment.

H.R. 5786, the "Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010", was introduced by Rep. Janice Schakowsky on 07/20/2010 and was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Education and Labor. H.R. 5786 would affect nanotech by requiring

    `(e) Labeling of Nanomaterials in Cosmetics- The Secretary may require that--

 

      `(1) minerals and other particulate ingredients be labeled as `nano-scale' on a cosmetic ingredient label or list if not less than 1 dimension is 100 nanometers or smaller for not less than 1 percent of the ingredient particles in the cosmetic; and

 

      `(2) other ingredients in a cosmetic be designated with scale-specific information on a cosmetic ingredient label or list if such ingredients possess scale-specific hazard properties.

     

H.R. 5786 remains in committee.

S. 596, the "Nanotechnology Innovation and Prize Competition Actr of 2009", was introduced by Senator Ron Wyden on 03/ 16/2009 and was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where it remains. S. 596 would have directed the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to award cash prizes and/or public recognition to eligible persons for achievement in applying nanotechnology in four areas:

1) Improvement of the environment

2) Alternative Energy Sources

3) Improvement of Human Health

4) Development of Consumer Products

S. 1482, the "National Nanotechnology Initiatives Amendments Act of 2009", was introduced by Senator John Kerry on 07/21/2009 and subsequently referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. S. 1482 would have directed the National Nanotechnology Program to involve the nanoindustry community to promote more rapid commercialization of nanotech reseach  and would have required the development of a

1) DATABASE-

 

        `(A) IN GENERAL- The Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office shall develop and maintain a searchable keyword database of all projects funded by the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council.

 

        `(B) DATABASE CONTENTS- The database required by subparagraph (A) shall include the following, with respect to each project in the database:

 

          `(i) A description of the project.

 

          `(ii) The source of funding of the project, set forth by agency.

 

          `(iii) The funding history of the project.

         

Many of the provisions of S. 1482 are similiar to provisions in bills discussed above.

S. 2942, the "Nanotechnology Safety Act of 2010", introduced by Senator Mark Pryor on 01/21/2010 and referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, would have required the Secretary of HHS to establish within the FDA a program to investigate the possible toxicity of nanoscale materials and such material's affect on and interaction with biological systems. The bill remains in committee.

S. 3117, the "Promote Nanotechnology in Schools Act", introduced by Senator Ron Wyden on 03/15/2010 and referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, is essentially the Senate companion bill to H.R. 4502 discussed above. It too remains in committee.

Other House and Senate bills which focused on other subjests, have included sections relating to nanotechnology.

H.R. 2647, the "National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010", introduced by Rep. Ike Skelton on 06/22/2010, was passed in the House and Senate and signed into law as P.L. 111-84; section 242 modified the reporting requirements for nanotech defense related research and development.

H.R. 2965 and S. 1233, "The SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2009", introduced by Rep. Jason Altmire on 06/19/2009 and Senator Mary Landrieu on 06/10/2009 respectively, would have reauthorized the Small Business Inovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. H.R. 2965 was passed by the House with amendments on 07/08/2009 and forwarded on to the Senate. The Senate further amended H.R. 2965 by substituting the language of S. 1233 as amended and passed in the Senate for the language of H.R. 2965, a procedure known as an amendment in the nature of a substitute. H.R. 2965 was returned to the Senate calendar for further action. Section 206 of the bill reads as follows:

SEC. 206. NANOTECHNOLOGY INITIATIVE.

 

    (a) In General- Section 9 of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 638), as amended by this Act, is amended by adding at the end the following:

 

    `(ff) Nanotechnology Initiative- Each Federal agency participating in the SBIR or STTR program shall encourage the submission of applications for support of nanotechnology related projects to such program.'.

 

    (b) Sunset- Effective October 1, 2014, subsection (ff) of the Small Business Act, as added by subsection (a) of this section, is repealed.

Two other bills that would potentially impact nanotechnology, H.R. 5820, the "Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010", introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush on 07/22/2010 and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and S. 3209, the "Safe Chemicals Act of 2010" introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg and referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works", remain in committee. Both bills would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act.

NNI at 10

In an article in the September issue of Nature ("Nanotechnology: Small wonders"), Corie Lok reviews the beginnings and accomplishments of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) over the last ten years.

The article attributes the creation of the NNI to four factors:

- A booming US economy, particularly in the high tech sector

- Support from the Clinton administration as it entered its last year in office

- Developments within the then emerging science of nanotechnology that caught the public's attention

- Visionary scientists and engineers who could clearly and in terms everyone could understand communicate what this new field of science was about and how it would benefit everyone. The late Dr. Richard Smalley and Mihail Roco are noted by Ms. Lok for their work in getting NNI started.

NNI's success in creating research centers and legitimizing nanotech in the eyes of the general public, leading  to a flow of venture capital to start-up companies that planned to commercialize the results of nanotech research, is offset by what Lok and others consider its biggest flaw, a lack of focus on the possible adverse effects of nanomaterials on the environment and human health. NNI is now beginning to fund research in these areas.

As the article notes, NNI deserves a great deal of the credit for nurturing nanotechnology over the past decade. But as nanotech has begun to mature, expectations of returns on the investments of both public and private capital in the form of practical and commercial applications and products have risen. In many ways, nanotech and nanoindustries are still at a beginning stage and applications of nanotech in such fields as medicine are still being developed and explored.

NNI faces an uncertain future, with bills that would reauthorize and continue funding for NNI, such as HR 554, the "National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act", passed in the House in February 2009  and HR 5116, the "America COMPETES Reauthorization Act", passed in the House in June 2010 awaiting action in the Senate. S. 1482, the Senate version of the "National Nanotechnology Initiatives Amendment Act" - despite the same title, they are not companion bills - remains stuck in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.  As Congress returns from the August recess, these bills may be brought up for debate before Congress adjourns so members may run for re-election.  It is also possible that the bills may be brought up for debate in a "lame-duck" session following the elections.