The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science organization in the world, comprising more than 40,000 members, appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 appropriation 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's research and development programs for FY 2004.
Environmental Protection Agency
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 strongly recommends increasing the Administration's request of $49.2 million for Safe Drinking Water Research. The ASM also believes the total funding level for Clean and Safe Water programs at $2.9 billion is very inadequate and should be restored to FY 2003 levels. The ASM is very concerned that the Administration continues to cut the budgets of EPA's water programs that help to ensure the quality of the nation's water system. The ASM requests that Congress restore critical funding across EPA's water programs that ensure the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act are properly maintained. Maintaining a strong infrastructure for water quality is the foundation of EPA's Area-Wide Optimization Program (AWOP), which is designed to reduce consumers' exposure to microbial contaminants by improving the performance of filtering technology. This program is particularly important in maintaining the viability of drinking water systems ability to comply with drinking water regulations, especially the arsenic and microbial, disinfectant and disinfection by-products rules.
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. It is essential that EPA's water quality programs continue to focus on reducing the uncertainties surrounding the exposure to biological and chemical contaminants by improving analytical methods and risk assessments. ASM encourage these and other efforts to improve drinking water implementation programs that strengthen coordination between local, state, and federal authorities.
Science to Achieve Results Program (STAR)
The ASM is concerned that the Administration is funding the STAR program at the FY 2000 level of $100 million. The flat funding of this program over the past four 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 2004. The 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 (e.g., mercury), which have significant microbiological components. For instance, in 1999, STAR program grantees developed a model to better understand mercury's terrestrial and aquatic fate and transformation processes that influence environmental exposure and toxicity. This study is particularly important in understanding ecosystem responses to changes in mercury inputs and its affect on water quality, wildlife, and humans.
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 cutting the program funding in half ($4.9 million) in its FY 2004 budget. Therefore, the ASM highly recommends that the Subcommittee allocate the necessary funds ($10 million) to keep the STAR fellowship program competitive for the nation's best students.
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.
During this year's appropriations process, the ASM urges Congress to consider these needs and provide the necessary incremental funding. The ASM appreciates the opportunity to comment and would be pleased to provide additional information.