The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is pleased to submit the following testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 appropriation for science and technology (S&T) programs at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The ASM is the largest single life science organization in the world with more than 38,000 members.
The Administration’s proposed FY 2013 budget of $807.3 million for EPA’s S&T activities is $13.5 million; a 1.7 percent increase above the FY 2012 enacted level. This request is roughly 10 percent of the total EPA budget proposal, and it provides crucial resources for EPA’s science based regulatory responsibilities. The S&T funding supports research and development (R&D) efforts, personnel costs, laboratory purchases, and other operating expenses, resources necessary to strengthen the science underlying EPA’s environmental standards and their enforcement.
The FY 2013 EPA budget provides critical resources for the agency’s current strategic plan, which identifies five goals to guide EPA research, education, regulatory, compliance, and enforcement functions during FY 2011–2015:
Goal 1: Taking Action on Climate Change and Improving Air Quality
Goal 2: Protecting America’s Waters
Goal 3: Cleaning Up Communities and Advancing Sustainable Development
Goal 4: Ensuring the Safety of Chemicals and Preventing Pollution
Goal 5: Enforcing Environmental Laws
The EPA has developed five cross-cutting strategies to help achieve the Strategic Plan’s goals, one of which is “advancing science, research, and technological innovation.” EPA’s strategic successes depend upon best practice science capabilities enabled by adequate S&T funding. EPA research programs contribute new knowledge to regulatory science; analyze environmental samples; provide technical support to federal, state, and local labs; monitor regulated pollutants; check compliance and enforce federal regulations; and respond to emergencies.
In the past year, EPA monitored US air quality following Japan’s nuclear disaster, awarded grants to universities and health departments to develop new controls for bed bug infestations, and accepted a congressional directive to evaluate the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. In January, EPA announced its FY 2012–2013 “priority goals,” selected as measurable and achievable within two years, designed to advance the agency’s long-term strategic objectives. One priority goal is the clean-up of 22,100 contaminated US sites by September 30, 2013. As specified in the Administration’s request, the FY 2013 budget also would support restoring water quality in the Great Lakes, implementing new computing tools to improve environmental monitoring data-gathering, and developing new standards for vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions. Such EPA actions require frequent testing and a thorough understanding of current scientific knowledge.
EPA Funding Builds Technical Expertise in Environmental Sciences
The EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) currently manages research programs in six priority areas to advance environmental science: (1) air, climate, and energy; (2) safe and sustainable water resources; (3) sustainable and healthy communities; (4) chemical safety for sustainability; (5) human health risk assessment; and (6) homeland security research. EPA scientists and engineers conduct this research at ORD’s three national laboratories, four national centers, and two offices situated in 14 facilities. These centers and labs are responsible for studies spanning the agency’s S&T research portfolio:
- National Exposure Research Laboratory – employs more than 400 scientists, engineers, and staff to develop the knowledge and tools needed for environmental risk assessments as well as optimal responses to contaminants
- National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory – conducts research on the effects of contaminants and environmental stressors on human health and ecosystems, to identify and evaluate risks
- National Risk Management Research Laboratory – focuses on practical actions to solve environmental problems like improving air quality, cleaning contaminated sites, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- National Center for Computational Toxicology – uses high-throughput screening technologies, systems biology, and advanced computer models to develop better tools that can screen thousands of chemicals for toxicity
- National Center for Environmental Assessment – prepares technical reports and risk assessments on how pollutants, etc., might impact human health and the environment; also develops new risk assessment methods and tools
- National Center for Environmental Research – manages EPA’s competitive grants and fellowship programs to develop the next generation of U.S. scientists and engineers
- National Homeland Security Research Center – created in 2002, provides the scientific knowledge to counter biological, chemical, and radiological pollutants
Research at EPA’s Microbiological and Chemical Exposure Assessment Research Division (MCEARD) is concerned about microorganisms in the environment that could be beneficial or harmful to human health. MCEARD scientists have established risk assessment tools and methods to detect molds, bacteria like Escherichia coli, viruses, Giardia parasites, and other microbes in water, soil, and air samples. The agency’s researchers have contributed significantly to commonly used protocols for monitoring microbial contaminants throughout the United States.
Across its six priority programs, ORD is placing more emphasis on finding sustainable solutions, within a sustainability focused operational framework recently developed by the National Research Council at EPA’s request. In addition, the six programs routinely leverage collaborations with other EPA offices, federal agencies, and state and local stakeholders. With its federal partners, EPA’s S&T expertise is integral to the nation’s homeland security efforts. EPA is the lead agency for federal preparations against terrorist attacks via water and for decontamination of indoor and outdoor areas post-attack. Biosecurity-related discoveries by ORD scientists and engineers also have clear applications to other sectors of public health and environmental sciences. As part of its homeland security responsibilities, EPA will use FY 2013 funds to implement a Regional Center of Expertise for Chemical Warfare Agent Laboratories, coordinating agency efforts into a more efficient operation.
EPA Funding Protects Against Threats to Healthy Environments
Every action taken by EPA to protect public health and the environment must be supported by solid S&T expertise and risk assessments. In the FY 2013 budget, S&T funding distributed among EPA’s five strategic goals would fall below FY 2011 levels, but slightly above FY 2012 enacted levels with one exception: (1) taking action on climate change and improving air quality, $271 million (4.3 percent increase); (2) protecting America’s waters, $151 million (1.2 percent increase); (3) cleaning up communities and advancing sustainable development, $183 million (2.3 percent decrease); (4) ensuring the safety of chemicals and preventing pollution, $185 million (2.4 percent increase); and (5) enforcing environmental laws, $18.5 million (2.5 percent increase).
To achieve EPA’s strategic goals, FY 2013 funds will support prioritized actions in the coming year, all dependent upon S&T capabilities, including the following:
- About 70 federal rules directing EPA’s air toxic control efforts are due for review, and EPA experts and health risk data will shape the resultant standards and their enforcement.
- EPA will replace outdated technologies to detect air contaminants currently used in the national monitoring networks, using S&T funds to develop improved monitors for ambient air pollutants that are more cost-effective for EPA, state, and local agencies.
- FY 2013 increases include funds for the Drinking Water program that will provide additional technical assistance to states. By September 30, 2013, EPA also will have collaborated with 20 states to specifically improve small drinking water systems. A partnership created last August with the U.S. Department of Agriculture will direct FY 2013 EPA resources toward protecting rural drinking water and wastewater systems.
- With the Department of Energy and the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA researchers will prepare a detailed study of potential air, ecosystem, and water quality impacts of hydraulic fracturing.
- The EPA Pollution Prevention Program will focus its R&D efforts on evaluating and encouraging greater use of greener chemicals, products, and technologies.
EPA programs play a role in preserving healthy environments in US communities. In January, EPA provided nearly $10 million in grants to 38 states, territories, and tribes to protect swimmers at beaches against bacterial and other contamination. A recent annual EPA report showed that EPA actions in FY 2011 stopped more than 1.8 billion pounds of harmful pollution in the nation’s air, land, and waters. In the past year, EPA safeguarded our food supply by issuing compliance orders to several beef feedlots in the Midwest and warning against consuming fish from contaminated waters in Texas. The agency also announced improvements to its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), an online repository of EPA’s scientific evaluations of health risks associated with environmental contaminants. There currently are 540 chemical substances in the IRIS database.
EPA Funding Stimulates Scientific and Economic Innovation
In FY 2013, EPA grants will continue to support both the university researchers who make new discoveries in environmental sciences and the educational institutions that train our future scientists and engineers. One example is EPA’s principal sponsorship of the University of California’s Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology, created in 2008 to help design environmentally safe nanomaterials for what is expected to become a $1 trillion industry in the near future. Another is the exemplary Science To Achieve Results (STAR) fellowship program, which supports graduate environmental study.
The ASM recommends that Congress provide increased funding for EPA science programs in the FY 2013 budget for the agency. EPA’s effectiveness in enforcing federal environmental standards clearly depends upon the quality of EPA science and technology and increased resources are needed for the important EPA mission of protecting the public against unhealthy environments. The external portion of EPA’s S&T funds which goes to universities is of major importance in training the next generation of scientists and engineers who will implement more cost effective and sustainable protection of human health and the environment.