In a surprise move, the White House has nominated Paul Anastas  to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Office of Research and Development. ORD focuses  on science that will help assess the risk of existing chemicals. But Anastas, 46, is a synthetic chemist and a founder of the field of green chemistry. The departure for ORD caught many by surprise. "I see this as pretty amazing," says Carol Henry, an adjunct researcher at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington, D.C.
Anastas, a professor at Yale University, isn't green at EPA or in Washington policy circles. After earning his Ph.D. in 1989, he worked at EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances (OPPT) for a decade, rising to head the Industrial Chemistry Branch. There his focus was on how to develop compounds in a way to make sure they would not be carcinogenic. After leaving EPA in 1999, he spent 5 years at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He joined Yale in 2007.
In 1991, Anastas coined the term "green chemistry." It means different things to different people; check out the 12 principles  in a 2002 article Anastas cowrote for Science. Generally, green chemistry refers to sustainability and the concept of designing and producing chemicals in a way that minimizes the potential for health or environmental hazards. (At EPA, the green chemistry program  is in OPPT.)
So what might the nomination mean for EPA, if Anastas is confirmed by the Senate? Henry, who directed the American Chemistry Council's research portfolio, says that an injection of green chemistry could stimulate more innovation at ORD.
Anastas appears to be thinking along those lines. He wrote about the need for a new approach in an article  in The New York Academy of Sciences Magazine this spring:
Many of our attempts at environmental regulation have been mandates for technological bandages that didn’t always foster innovation. Though some accomplished the desired goals, the approaches were often costly and inefficent. The next generation of actions taken by government in concert with NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and industry needs to be far more about innovation and thoughtful design.
Credit: Michael Marsland/Yale University