EPA official returns to Yale

Yale’s “father of green chemistry” announced that he will leave his position as science adviser and assistant administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development in mid-February to return to Yale.

Paul Anastas has been on public service leave from the Yale Center of Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, where he served as director before his appointment to the EPA position by President Barack Obama in 2009. In his absence, his wife Julie Zimmerman, associate professor of green engineering at Yale’s School of Engineering & Applied Sciences and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, has taken on the role of acting director for the Center.

“I think that [Anastas’s] impact will be lasting on our organization,” said Liz Blackburn, the EPA’s science communication director for the Office of Research and Development. “I’m going to miss him immensely. You don’t often get to work with such a visionary leader and so I feel really privileged that I had this opportunity.”

Evan Beach, program manager at the Center, said Anastas’s EPA appointment initially caused some uncertainty about the future of the Center because it was unclear how much time Anastas would serve in the agency.

“It made us worry about the program here at Yale, but at the same time I personally think he was a great choice for the position because he can bring the green chemistry focus to the EPA better than anybody else could,” Beach said.

Anastas announced his departure from the EPA on Jan. 5, Blackburn said. His departure, although never discussed, was always a possibility, she said, because he has two young daughters. She added that his main reason for leaving was to spend more time with his family, as he has been at the EPA since his youngest daughter was born.

Blackburn credited Anastas with fostering a greater sense of partnership within the EPA, citing increased collaboration among the agency’s scientists. Another of his accomplishments, she added, is his “Path Forward,” a plan stating that sustainability should be one of the EPA’s major goals, and that the organization should produce “rapid, relevant and responsive” research.

Both Beach and Blackburn cited the “Green Book” — a set of recommendations for how the EPA can adopt sustainability into its work — as one of Anastas’ major contributions during his time at the agency. Beach added that Anastas has also been “instrumental” in ensuring that the agency fund programs in green chemistry and sustainability, adding that he’s noticed a trend in the EPA requiring that research projects have a sustainability element.

Several undergraduates working for the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering said they are eagerly anticipating Anastas’ return to the University.

“I am definitely excited about Dr. Anastas’ return,” said Genoa Warner ’12. “I love my research at the Center, and although I’ve never met Dr. Anastas, I’m excited to learn from him.”

Emily Hong ’14, a researcher in Zimmerman’s lab, said the University as a whole will benefit from Anastas’ return.

“No doubt he will bring back invaluable experience and expertise from his time at the EPA that can be immediately applied to the Center’s current research projects,” she added.

Anastas holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachussetts at Boston and master’s and doctoral degrees in chemistry from Brandeis University.

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