The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science organization in the world, comprised of more than 42,000 members, appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The ASM represents scientists who work in academic, industrial, medical and governmental institutions worldwide. Microbiologists are involved in research to improve human health and the environment. The ASM's mission is to enhance the science of microbiology, to gain a better understanding of basic life processes, and to promote the application of this knowledge for improved health, and for economic and environmental well being.
The following testimony will outline the ASM's funding recommendations for EPA research and development programs for FY 2003.
The EPA's scientific research and development programs are critical to researchers in the fields of applied and environmental microbiology. Research on environmental microbiology is essential for improving air, water, and soil quality; for assuring the safety of potable water supplies; for protecting public water systems from biological threats; for providing safe means for waste disposal; and for cleanups of environmental contaminants. The ASM believes that sound public policy for environmental protection depends on adequately funded programs of intramural and extramural research based on a system of peer review to assure that support is awarded to research programs having both quality and relevance. The EPA has begun its own peer review system based upon the National Science Foundation model. Critical peer review of both the intramural and extramural research programs of the EPA are necessary for ensuring the quality and scientific validity of studies that are funded.
Safe Water and Water Research
The ASM is disappointed with the Administration's request of $49.5 million for Safe Drinking Water Research, a decrease of $4 million from FY 2002. The ASM is also discouraged with the total funding level for Clean and Safe Water programs at $3.2 billion, a decrease of $524 million from FY 2002. However, the ASM applauds the EPA's continuing support of program initiatives such as drinking water safety standards (e.g., Contaminant Candidate List (CCL)), cost-effective water treatment technologies focusing on microbes, improved water safety guidelines and pollution indicators, and a federal database of beach advisories and closings across the United States. ASM also commends the EPA's continued research efforts to strengthen the scientific basis for drinking water standards through use of improved methods and new data to better evaluate the risks associated with exposure to microbial and chemical contaminants in drinking water. Additionally, the ASM is pleased with the EPA intra-agency initiative (the Microbial Waterborne Disease Program) to address scientific and methodology gaps across water programs. ASM hopes that this will serve as a model for improved coordination among several federal and state agencies in dealing with microbial pollutants in the nation's drinking and recreational water systems.
Science to Achieve Results Program
The ASM is disappointed that the Administration is funding the program at the FY 2000 level of $100 million. The flat funding of this program over the past three fiscal cycles has lead to a reduction in the program's ability to attract new researchers. Therefore, the ASM believes the program would be better served if funded at $110 million for FY 2003. The EPA's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program is an important mission-driven, extramural research initiative. This program funds important environmental research proposals from scientists outside the federal government and is a valuable resource for the EPA in finding solutions to many complex environmental problems. Grants made under the STAR program last from two to three years and provide about $150,000 of scientific support per grant year. The STAR program funds projects in specific focal areas including global warming, drinking water, ecology of harmful algal blooms, water and watersheds, ecological indicators, and pollution prevention, which have significant microbiological components. For instance, in 1993, an outbreak in Wisconsin of a waterborne disease caused by Cryptosporidium (a parasite) killed almost 100 people and made another 400,000 ill. STAR researchers developed a method that could determine the likelihood of infections from different strains of Cryptosporidium. This process has also been useful in determining whether disinfectants (e.g., chlorine) would be effective against the organism.
The ASM is pleased to see that the EPA continues to expand the bounds of STAR research by developing multi-year plans (e.g., for Particulate Matter) that will relate STAR and intramural research products to the Agency's strategic goals for different program areas. These plans will help provide a framework for the Agency to consider, and to explain the balance of R&D performers in individual research areas. The ASM also recommends that 20 percent of the STAR budget remain open for exploring broader issues not covered by targeted RFA's. This mechanism captures the creativity of the scientific community to foresee EPA relevant needs and solutions.
Graduate Environmental Fellowship Program
The EPA's Graduate STAR Environmental Fellowship Program has been an outstanding success in attracting some of the best young talent to environmental research. Examples of research conducted in the STAR program include new methods of classifying biologically impaired watersheds and the human health effects of particulate matter. This type of research is generally unique to the EPA and is integral to its role as steward of the environment. Unfortunately, the Administration is eliminating this program in its FY 2003 budget. Therefore, the ASM highly recommends that the Subcommittee allocate the necessary funds ($9.7 million) to keep the STAR fellowship program viable.
The ASM believes the Fellowship program is one of the many initiatives the federal government must fully support to ensure that the nation is prepared to answer the complex scientific questions of the future. Both the public and private sectors will benefit from a steady stream of well-trained environmental specialists. The proposed elimination of the program will hinder further research in such areas as bioremediation, global warming, and water safety. The ASM also shares the concern raised by the EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) that without the Fellowship program, the EPA may be unable to replace many of the EPA scientists nearing retirement with top-level scientists. The ASM is also concerned that the quality and regard for EPA science will suffer in the short and long term if the program is abolished. The EPA would not only lose valuable graduate research, but the partnerships developed between industry environmental labs and the EPA.