Environmental Protection Agency - FY 2000 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science organization in the world, comprising more than 43,000 members, welcomes the opportunity to testify before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on VA, HUD and Independent Agencies and provide comments and recommendations for the fiscal year (FY) 2000 appropriations for the scientific research programs within the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The ASM is comprised of scientists who work in academic, governmental and industrial institutions worldwide. Microbiologists are involved in research on problems related to human health, the environment and agriculture. The mission of ASM 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 EPA funds important basic research activities in focused areas related to the agency's mission of protecting the environment. This testimony will outline the ASM's funding recommendations for the EPA research and development programs for FY 2000.

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, has begun 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 mission-driven, extramural research initiative. This program is targeted to receive $110 million for FY 2000, a $14 million increase over last year's budget of about $96 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 drinking water, ecology of harmful algal blooms, water and watersheds, ecological indicators, and pollution prevention, which have significant microbiological components. The ASM urges the Congress to fully fund the STAR program at the requested level of $110 million. ASM is concerned, however, that the exploratory grants program, as opposed to targeted RFAs, has dropped to only 10 percent of the STAR budget. This portion is too small to meet the many needs within EPA's mission that are not targeted in a limited number of RFAs.

Clean and Safe Water

The ASM supports the Administration's request of $3.4 billion for Clean and Safe Water. The ASM applauds the EPA's support of such program initiatives as drinking water safety standards, 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 supports the EPA Research Plan for Microbial Pathogens and Disinfection By-Products in Drinking Water focusing on Cryptosporidium and Giardia and urges Congress to ensure that adequate funding is secured from within the $41.5 million, targeted for Safe Drinking Water Research, to allow this plan to be carried out. In addition, the ASM believes that the next step in this research plan should be to focus on additional pathogens such as microsporidia and Helicobacter pylori. ASM strongly believes that there should be improved coordination among several federal and state agencies in dealing with microbial pollutants in the nation's drinking and recreational water.

Graduate Environmental Fellowship Program

The ASM urges Congress to fully fund the EPA's Graduate Fellowship Program at the requested level of $10 million for FY 2000. 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 benefit from a steady stream of well-trained environmental specialists. The fellowship program has had a major impact in attracting exceptionally talented young people 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 EPA receives funding for this important program, the agency support fellowships in areas related to microbial risks in the environment including water quality and bioremediation technologies to clean up toxic waste.