In a recent move by the Biden administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a ban on methylene chloride, a chemical integral to the production of various U.S. military equipment, including bulletproof glass, helmets, and fighter jet canopies. Domestic manufacturers, alarmed by the potential consequences, argue that the ban could render America’s national defense apparatus dependent on foreign sources, particularly China.
Covestro, a prominent polymer manufacturer, conveyed its concerns in a letter to the EPA, stating that the proposed ban would “require military and police related applications to be manufactured from foreign sourced materials.” The fear is that the ban could disrupt the supply chain for crucial military equipment.
The backdrop of this proposal coincides with China’s efforts to increase its chemical production. From controlling just 9 percent of the world’s chemical sales in 2003, China has become the world’s largest chemical producer, accounting for 44 percent of global sales as of 2022. This shift raises concerns about the potential vulnerability of the U.S. defense industry to foreign influence.
While the Biden administration has emphasized the importance of reducing foreign dependency for critical materials required for the Department of Defense (DoD), critics argue that the methylene chloride ban might inadvertently undermine this mission. The EPA, however, maintains that the proposal will not impact defense contractors and assures a “sufficient supply” of chemicals like methylene chloride in the market.
Nalas Engineering Services, a chemical manufacturer with a $2 million deal with the Department of Defense, expressed concerns that the proposed constraints could have long-term implications for the supply chain, even with exemptions for critical national security uses. Similarly, Boulder Scientific Company warned that a methylene chloride ban might force large chemical producers to seek suppliers from non-domestic sources.
The EPA defended its proposal, stating that it involves a mixture of approaches, including strict workplace controls for certain uses that can continue safely. However, national security concerns have been previously raised, with a Department of Energy laboratory expressing worry about limitations on crucial research if the ban proceeds.
As the debate unfolds, the proposed EPA ban on methylene chloride raises questions about the delicate balance between environmental regulations and national security, with potential implications for the future of U.S. military supply chains.