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By: Rachael Simonoff Wexler, Matthew M. Hoffman and Elizabeth F. Mason
Energy companies may be headed for an unwelcome and unexpected regulatory detour. The United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") is stepping up its efforts to regulate nano-scale materials, many of which are incorporated into the four main energy categories: conservation, generation, storage, and conversion.
The word nanotechnology conjures up images of science fiction adventures, without much basis in today's reality. That is far from the truth. Nanotechnologies have become the darlings of the energy sector. Nanotech is now a critical point of innovation in solar cells, super capacitors, nanoparticle fuel additives, nanocubes and aero-gels forming better building insulation.
As regulation of nano-scale materials appears more likely, energy companies may have the most at stake. However, because little is known or understood about the interaction of nanotechnologies, energy and other ventures have the rare opportunity to educate EPA, help define the dialogue and shape regulation of nano-scale materials.
For years, consumer groups have voiced concerns about the potential environmental and human health effects of nano-scale materials. The debate centers on whether a material's nano-scale poses new or different environmental, health and safety risks as compared to its larger-scale predecessors. As early as 2006, EPA was asked to look at nano-scale silver ("nanosilver") specifically and to regulate it differently from larger-scale silver (which is already regulated). Despite confusing media reports in 2006 about EPA's pending regulation of nanosilver, the EPA did not actually impose new regulations.
This may change soon. The attention to nano regulation is heating up - EPA's recent request for comment on a consumer petition for the regulation of nanosilver comes on the heels of other recent regulatory actions by EPA regarding carbon nanotubes. Comments on the nanosilver petition must be submitted by January 20, 2008.
To meet the ambitious greenhouse gas and energy reduction targets set by the world's governments we will use important nanotechnologies. Regulation of these technologies adds additional cost to already capital intensive ventures. EPA's declarations about nano-scale materials may also foreshadow future consumer litigation to come. These near- and long-term effects make nano regulation an important issue today.
President-elect Obama has made clear his determination for energy independence. That goal enjoys broad support and appeal, making this an opportune time for the energy sector to share their data on nanotech and play an important role in designing well-suited federal legislation that ends the current regulatory uncertainty of nanotechnologies.
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Porter Novelli for Goodwin Procter
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