Environmental Protection Agency - FY 2005 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) appreciates the opportunity to submit testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 appropriation for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The ASM is the largest single life science organization in the world, comprised of more than 43,000 members. ASM members are involved in research to improve human health and the environment and work in academic, industrial, medical, and governmental institutions worldwide. The ASM’s mission is to enhance the science of microbiology, to gain a better understanding of life processes, and to promote the application of this knowledge for improved health, and for economic and environmental well-being.

The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment (air, water, and land). The ASM believes that sound public policy for environmental protection depends on adequately funded programs of intramural and extramural research based on scientific peer review to assure that support is awarded to research that has both quality and relevance. The nation spends comparatively little on environmental research, even though health and the environment are often integrally related. It is essential that the EPA’s Science to Achieve Results Research (STAR) program and Indoor Air Quality research, Clean and Safe Water research, and Surface Water Protection and Drinking Water research programs be adequately funded in the EPA budget.

Unfortunately, the EPA budget proposes a 12% funding cut for EPA science and technology programs below the FY 2004 allocation, despite the importance of these programs to addressing increasingly complex environmental problems. ASM urges Congress to provide increased funding for EPA science and technology programs. EPA depends on excellent research programs to evaluate risk, develop and defend protective standards, anticipate future health and environmental threats, and to identify solutions to environmental problems.

STAR Grants Program

EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) manages the STAR grants program, which is a competitive, peer-reviewed, extramural research grants program intended to increase access to the nation’s best scientists and engineers in academic and other non-profit research institutions. Research sponsored by the STAR program allows the EPA to fill information gaps that are not addressed completely by its intramural research programs, and to respond to new and emerging issues that the agency’s laboratories are not able to address.

The EPA budget requests a 35%, or $35 million, cut in funding for the STAR grants program from FY 2004. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has urged the continuation of and investment in the STAR program. In 2003, the NAS released a report titled, The Measure of STAR: Review of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Research Grants Program, which argues that the STAR grants are a critical means for the agency to access scientific expertise that it does not have in-house, and to respond quickly to emerging issues.

Since its inception in 1995, STAR research projects have resulted in articles in highly respected, peer-reviewed journals, and have already helped to improve our understanding of the causes, exposures and effects of environmental pollution and microorganisms in the environment. ASM urges Congress to fully restore funding for the STAR grants program to the FY 2004 level of $100 million. At present, STAR focuses on critical research areas, including the health effects of particulate matter, drinking water, water quality, global change, ecosystem assessment and restoration, human health risk assessment, endocrine disrupting chemicals, pollution prevention and new technologies, children’s health, and socio-economic research.

A typical STAR grant is funded at $500,000, with full funding the first year, and may last up to three years. With the proposed budget request, approximately 70 fewer individual research projects will be awarded. The proposed 35% cut in funding for the STAR program would:

  • Eliminate 50 grants in FY 2005 across all areas of the ecological research program. 
  • Redirect $5 million from research to a pollution prevention outreach program in another part of the EPA. Redirecting these funds would eliminate $3 million in STAR funding, which is EPA’s contribution to the EPA-National Science Foundation (NSF) partnership. 
  • Cut $4.9 million, which would eliminate the entire STAR grant research program on endocrine disruptors. The funds would otherwise have supported research on the extent to which humans and wildlife are exposed to endocrine disruptors, an area that the NAS and the World Health Organization have identified as an important research gap. 
  • Eliminate STAR research in FY 2005 on how and where mercury moves through the environment. 
  • Eliminate ORD’s contribution to the five EPA established, university-based centers affiliated with 22 universities to address concerns about hazardous substances in the environment.

STAR 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 unique to the EPA and is integral to its role as steward of the environment. Unfortunately, the EPA budget proposes a 40%, or $4 million, cut for FY 2005.

ASM believes the Fellowship program is one of the 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. More than 1,300 applicants compete each year for approximately 100 fellowships through a rigorous merit review process.

The proposed cut of the fellowship program will significantly reduce the number of fellowships granted. ASM urges Congress to restore funding for the STAR fellowship program to its FY 2004 level of $10 million. Additionally, ASM 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. This issue will become more pronounced as time goes on, increasing the need for more support for this fellowship program.

Waterborne Pathogens

Although the American public enjoys safe drinking water, waterborne disease outbreaks caused by pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and parasites continue to be reported periodically. Surface water and groundwater sources can be contaminated with many different types of chemical substances and microorganisms. Furthermore, the disinfection process itself creates a number of potentially toxic chemical byproducts. EPA conducts the necessary research to provide a strong scientific foundation for standards that limit the public’s exposure to drinking water contaminants and disinfection byproducts. This research supports major regulatory activities including the Microbial/Disinfection Byproduct Rules, and future decisions on unregulated pathogens and chemicals. EPA is conducting research on waterborne pathogens, arsenic, disinfection byproducts, and other chemical contaminants to protect the nation.

Indoor Air Quality

Every breath we take, indoors and out, we inhale not just life-sustaining oxygen but dust and smoke, chemicals, microorganisms, and particles and pollutants that float on the air. The average human inhales approximately 10 cubic meters of air daily. Because most people spend about 22 hours each day indoors, poor indoor air quality (IAQ) affects both public health and national productivity. At present, a shortage of IAQ research leaves much unknown about cause-and-effect specifics, but there is little doubt that contaminated buildings are attracting more attention as occupants develop often vague symptoms followed by remediation, litigation, and other costly outcomes.

Although IAQ issues are often viewed as a problem of modern buildings, connections made between air and disease date to ancient times. Long before the germ theory of disease and its indictment of pathogenic microorganisms, humans associated foul miasmas like “sewer gas” with infectious diseases such as malaria. Initially, prevention of disease transmission by infectious pathogens became the principal concern of early public health advocates. Today we understand that airborne non-pathogenic organisms, fragments of microbial cells, and by-products of microbial metabolism also cause problems. ASM believes that more research is needed in this area for the safety and protection of human health.

Conclusion

Well-funded research is needed to address emerging issues affecting the environment and human health. For EPA to fulfill its mission to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment, ASM urges Congress to increase funding for the EPA’s science and technology programs to their FY 2004 level.

The ASM appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony and would be pleased to assist the Subcommittee as it considers its appropriation for the EPA for FY 2005.

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