Environmental Protection Agency - FY 1999 Testimony

The EPA's scientific research and development programs are of interest to many of ASM's members who work in the fields of applied and environmental microbiology. Research on environmental microbiology is essential for maintaining air, water, and soil quality; for assuring the safety of potable water supplies; and for providing safe means for waste disposal. Support of applied research in the field of environmental microbiology can lead to enhanced environmental quality and help protect human health. 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, which has partnered with the NSF in recent years for peer review of some extramural research programs, now is undertaking its own peer review system based upon the NSF 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.

Science to Achieve Results Program

The EPA's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program is an important extramural research initiative. This program is targeted to receive $99 million for FY 1999, a $12 million increase over last year's budget of about $87 million. 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 of the complex environmental problems we face today. 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, bioremediation, drinking water, ecology of harmful algal blooms, water and watersheds, ecosystem indicators, pollution prevention, and ecological assessment, which have significant microbiological components. The ASM urges the Congress to fully fund the STAR program at the requested level of $99 million.

Drinking Water Research

In past years, the EPA has funded a disproportionate number of projects in chemistry as opposed to microbiology in research areas such as drinking water. Given the risks posed by waterborne pathogens, as evidenced by disease outbreaks such as Cryptosporidium in Milwaukee and economic losses such as the estimated $43 million loss due to Pfiesteria in the Chesapeake Bay, the ASM believes that more emphasis needs to be placed on microbiology.

The ASM believes it is imperative to provide sound reliable science to support the EPA in its effort to promulgate responsible regulations to protect human health from the risks associated with such contaminants. For example, much research needs to be conducted to control the outbreaks of human exposure to the protozoan Cryptosporidium in our drinking water as well as to other pathogens. To date, hundreds of people have died and many thousands have become ill as a result of exposure to microbial pathogens in potable water. In 1993, 400,000 people became infected with Cryptosporidium from Milwaukee's water supply. The EPA must develop advance-warning systems that increase protection of public health and enable the nation to avoid future incidents such as the devastating Cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee that was disseminated via the municipal potable water supply. The protection of the American people from the potential health risks of exposure to microbial contaminants in their drinking water is reason enough to require the EPA to support research related to the microbial quality of water. This research should be coordinated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), particularly with respect to emerging waterborne pathogens.

Graduate Environmental Fellowship Program

The ASM urges Congress to fund the EPA's Graduate Fellowship Program at a $15 million level for FY 1999, a $5 million increase over the President's request and last year's funding level of $10 million. The EPA's Graduate Environmental 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 need a steady stream of well trained environmental specialists. The fellowship program encourages promising environmental graduate students to pursue careers in environmentally related fields. With environmental challenges facing the nation including cleaning up toxic waste, ensuring cleaner air and water, and providing safe drinking water, there is a clear need for highly skilled, well trained environmental experts to find solutions to these pressing issues. However, it is essential that once the EPA receives funding for this important program, the agency support fellowships in areas related to the microbial risks in the environment including water quality and bioremediative techniques to clean up toxic waste.

Targeting Research to Regulation

The ASM urges Congress to require the EPA to examine its basic research programs to ensure their adequacy for providing the information necessary for sound rule making. The ASM is concerned that the basic research that underpins environmental policy and rule making in specific areas is inadequate. We note for example that the 1999 proposed STAR program, highlighted above, has not identified animal wastes and contamination of water as an area for basic research funding even though the EPA has made this a critical issue for its regulatory oversight. Regulations must be based on sound science. The ASM is supportive of an independent study by an expert scientific panel to review the coordination of intramural and extramural activities aimed at ensuring that basic research is performed in areas where they are needed to formulate environmental policy and to allow scientifically valid regulatory oversight. To address this issue, the ASM urges the Committee to insert the following report language:

It is the opinion of the Committee that Americans should be protected from the threat of pathogenic microorganisms in their drinking waters and recreational waters through scientifically risk-based regulation. The Committee therefore requests the Agency to take steps to ensure that research and fellowships related to improving the microbial quality of water are supported through the STAR program and the Environmental Graduate Fellowship Program as well as other EPA research efforts. This should include the commissioning of an independent study by an expert scientific panel to review the coordination of EPA intramural and extramural activities aimed at ensuring that basic research is performed in areas where they are needed to formulate environmental policy and to allow scientifically valid regulatory oversight.