Environmental Protection Agency - FY 2001 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science organization in the world, comprised of more than 42,000 members, appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2001 budget for the scientific research programs within the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The ASM represents scientists who work in academic, industrial 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.

This testimony will outline the ASM's funding recommendations for the EPA research and development programs for FY 2001.

The EPA funds important basic research activities in focused areas related to the Agency's mission of protecting the environment. 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; for providing safe means for waste disposal; and for cleanups of environmental contaminants by bioremediation. 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 2001. 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 recommends, however, that at least 20 percent of the STAR budget be 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.

Clean and Safe Water

The ASM supports the Administration's request of $48.8 million for Safe Drinking Water Research. 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 commends the EPA's continued research efforts to strengthen the scientific basis for drinking water standards through use of improved methods and new data to better evaluate the risks associated with exposure to microbial and chemical contaminants in drinking water. Additionally, the ASM is pleased with the EPA intra-agency initiative to address scientific and methodology gaps across water programs. ASM hopes that this will serve as a model for 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 EPA's Graduate STAR Environmental Fellowship Program has been an outstanding success in attracting some of the best young talents to environmental research. This program has been level funded at $10 million per year since FY 1998 and is proposed for level funding again in FY 2001. ASM strongly endorses this program and, based on its success, suggests that the funding be increased to $15 million for FY 2001. 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 food and drinking water, there is a clear need for highly skilled, well-trained environmental experts to find solutions to these pressing issues.