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EPA agrees to shift research emphasis.

EPA agrees to shift research emphasis

When Congress created it in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was expected to conduct long-term investigations into the health of ecosystems -- including humans -- and their ability to deal with a growing array of pollutants. But a detailed analysis of EPA's research program by the agency's independent science-advisory board concludes these long-term studies -- deemed critical to shaping future national environmental policy -- are "not being adequately planned or funded at EPA today." A study (with five volumes of appendices) released Sept. 16 by the board offers a 10-point list of detailed recommendations to correct what it terms the "shortsighted" focus of EPA's research policy.

Over the past 18 years, the board notes, EPA's statutorily mandated regularoty responsibilities grew while its research and development (R&D) budget shrunk. To accommodate, the agency increasingly redirected its limited research money to short-term studies aimed at answer questions prompted by its pollution-control responsibilities.

However, the science board notes, many of EPA's current pollution-control activities do not tackle the problems -- such as "greenhouse" warming or stratospheric-ozone loss -- that pose the gretest risk to public health and the environmental. Moreover, points out Alvin Alm, a former EPA deputy administrator and chairman of the committee that authored the study, regulatory solutions have often involved only limiting the discharge of a pollutant, or shifting its allowed release from one sector of the environment (for instance, water) to another (such as land). Instead, he says, long-term research should look at ways to recycle wastes or eliminate their production altogehter.

Recommendations his panel offers include:

* shifting the focus of environmental protection from the implementation of pollutant controls -- such as the catalytic converters on auto tailpipes -- to strategies that prevent the generation of pollutants.

* creating an internal R&D-strategy council at EPA to plan long-term studies.

* Making the agency's assistant administrator for research a career, civil-service position. No political appointee heading EPA's R&D has stayed for more than three years, Alm notes, and since 1980, no one has held this job for more than two years. Continuity of vision and program balance require that EPA's research leader plan on staying at lest five to 10 ears, the board contends.

* creating an Environmental Research Institute to monitor ecological trends.

* Improving EPA's ability to foresee problems by developing and using new systems to monitor developing contamination of ecosystems and human populations.

* doubling EPA's R&D budget within five years. "If the nation is willing to spend $70 billion per year cleaning up and protecting the environment, then it is reasonable - indeed, barely sufficient -- to spend 1 percent of that amount on EPA reserach," the new study argues. Doubling EPA's research budget would bring its spending up to that 1 percent.

Rep. James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing EPA research, says the science board's report and recommendations are "a welcome -- if long overdue -- affirmation of the importance of environmental research." EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas agrees "it's an excellent report" and says he endorses "all" its recommendations. In fact, by the report's unveiling he had already begun setting up and R&D-stragegy council, had created a pollution-prevention department in the agency's policy office and had begun to look for shortcomings in EPA's ecological monitoring, he says.
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Title Annotation:Environmental Protection Agency to emphasize long-term studies
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 1, 1988
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