Environmental Protection Agency - FY 2010 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is pleased to submit the following testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 appropriation for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research and education programs. The ASM is the largest single life science membership organization in the world with more than 43,000 members. The ASM 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 environmental well-being.

The ASM urges Congress to support essential research and provide at least $595 million for the ORD in FY 2010, the same as the funding level provided in FY 2006. While the Environmental Protection Agency received substantial funding in both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, the need remains for a steady annual increase of fiscal year appropriations funding, to offset the past detrimental trend of budget cuts and loss of the Agency’s spending power to inflation.

The EPA relies on sound science to safeguard both human health and the environment. The EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) sponsors leading-edge research that provides a solid underpinning of science and technology for the Agency’s regulatory and public outreach activities. ORD conducts research on pollution prevention, human health protection, and reduction of risks from a variety of hazardous chemicals and microbes. The work at ORD laboratories, research centers, and offices across the country helps optimize use of our natural resources and improve the quality of the nation’s air, water, and soil. Excellence in research is crucial to ORD's mandated responsibilities:

  • Perform research and development to identify, understand, and solve current and future environmental problems; 
  • Provide responsive technical support to EPA's mission; 
  • Integrate the work of ORD's scientific partners (other agencies, nations, private sector organizations, and academia); and 
  • Provide leadership in addressing emerging environmental issues and in advancing the science and technology of risk assessment and risk management.

The ASM is very concerned with the trend in recent years of decreasing the annual budget for EPA’s research and development programs. Optimal EPA oversight of public health and the environment clearly depends upon the Agency’s access to exemplary scientific expertise within and outside the EPA, as well as the ability to respond quickly to our changing environment.

Both access to expertise and timely response to the environment depend on sufficient and sustained investments in research and development programs. The FY 2009 budget allocation for the ORD was $541 million, a significant 1.3 percent decrease from FY 2008. These funding decreases will likely undermine the basic scientific foundation essential for the EPA to make decisions and formulate regulations to protect both human health and the environment. The FY 2009 decreases are part of a longer-term pattern of funding erosion that is cause for serious concern.

Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Grants and Fellowships

The ASM urges Congress to increase funding for the STAR grants program to at least the FY 2002 level of $102 million. The FY2009 budget continued a disturbing seven-year trend of shrinking STAR resources by recommending only $61 million for STAR, a 4.6 percent reduction from FY2007. Currently, the STAR program focuses research on drinking water, water quality, global climate change, human health risk assessment, children’s health, and the health effects of particulate matter, among other equally important areas. Cuts to STAR funding will have almost certain detrimental effects on both human health and the environment.

The STAR grants support extramural research in numerous environmental science and engineering disciplines, awarded through a competitive solicitation process and independent peer review. The program engages the nation's best scientists and engineers in targeted research that complements EPA's own intramural research and that conducted by partners in other federal agencies. Cuts to the STAR program significantly reduce American competitiveness in the important areas of scientific research and discovery, an effect that cannot be ignored in the current economic climate.

Reductions in the STAR program will severely limit EPA’s ability to draw upon critically needed scientific expertise from the academic community, a valuable source of research insights and personnel for EPA programs. Reductions will also limit US competitiveness in the areas of environmental research, training, and development of new technologies for solving environmental problems. The STAR program revitalizes all areas of EPA research and its fellowships foster workforce development in environmental science and technology.

Clean and Safe Water

The EPA is tasked with ensuring the safety of our drinking and recreational waters, an enormous regulatory task that is entirely reliant on sufficient funding. Through Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Congress has mandated that the EPA must conduct adequate research to ensure a solid scientific foundation for the Agency’s mission of reducing and limiting public exposure to dangerous drinking water contaminants. The ASM is concerned with adverse impacts of past ORD budget cuts on EPA’s Drinking Water and Water Quality programs.

The Drinking Water Program has suffered the greatest reductions, with an 8 percent decrease from FY 2008 to 2009. Such decreases in the Drinking Water Program severely compromise the EPA’s ability to ensure safe drinking water for all Americans. Health problems from microbial contamination of drinking water are demonstrated by localized outbreaks of waterborne disease. Many of these outbreaks have been linked to contamination by bacteria or viruses, likely from human or animal wastes. For example, in 1999-2000, there were 39 reported disease outbreaks associated with drinking water, some of which were linked to public drinking water supplies.

The ASM supports the following as priority research areas for the FY 2010 budget for drinking water and water quality: 1) studies on impacts of subsurface carbon dioxide (CO2) storage on drinking water quality; 2) analysis of aquatic life guidelines, recreational water criteria, the effects of emerging contaminants, nutrients, biocriteria, and multiple stressor effects on stream biota; 3) watershed management research that supports diagnoses of impairment, mitigations, and pollutant load reduction in headwater streams and isolated wetlands; and 4) improvements in the control of microbial releases from publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) during periods of significant wet weather events. It is also imperative that the EPA continues to develop analytical methods for accurately measuring contaminant levels in drinking water and surface water; that the EPA ensures proper certification and assessment of laboratories that analyze drinking-water samples; and that the EPA conducts research that strengthens the scientific basis for standards that limit public exposure to contaminants. Topics of growing concern include: the dissemination of diverse anthropogenic compounds, such as pharmaceuticals and estrogens or estrogen-like compounds into the environment through water and wastewater treatment systems. These compounds are now ubiquitous, but their fates in the environment and impacts on humans and other organisms are inadequately known.

The ASM also supports increased funding for the Water Quality program. Expanding ORD-supported research is needed to more fully protect the nation from waterborne illnesses that persist in our environment. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cryptosporidium, a protozoan parasite causing gastroenteritis in humans, has become the leading cause of recreational water-associated outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness. In 2003-2004, this parasite accounted for 61 percent of gastrointestinal outbreaks associated with disinfected swimming venues, such as swimming pools and water parks¯likely due to the parasite’s high resistance to free chlorine, the main barrier to infectious disease transmission in pools. Since 2005, reports of cryptosporidiosis have increased substantially. Clearly, the EPA needs continued support to address water-borne diseases such as this.

Renewable Energy and Wastewater Infrastructure

The EPA is a stakeholder in ensuring a sustainable environment, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Renewable energy research is essential for ensuring sustainability, and the ASM encourages EPA to pursue collaborative efforts in this area with the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In order to provide safe and secure drinking water for its citizens, the nation must improve the sustainability and energy efficiency of its water distribution systems from sources to “sinks.” Energy efficiency is an important but often overlooked consideration when addressing the nation’s water supply. At present, the nation’s water distribution infrastructure consumes approximately 5 percent of total electricity use. The development of non-fossil fuel energy sources for water distribution cannot only contribute to a more secure water supply, but can also contribute to the nation’s energy security. Coupling microbial activity during wastewater treatment to electricity generation provides one example for increasing energy efficiency.

Researchers, supported by the NSF and the USDA have made great strides in advancing the technology of microbial fuel cells to benefit wastewater treatment plants. Microbial fuel cells work through the action of bacteria, which can produce electricity in fuel cells. In the process, the bacteria consume organic matter in the wastewater and thus improve water quality. This approach uses the bacteria that naturally occur in wastewater, requiring no special bacterial strains or unusual environmental demands. The benefit of microbial fuel cell applications is that they purify wastewater while generating electricity; water purification, the goal of wastewater treatment facilities, normally requires the consumption of energy.

The ASM urges Congress to support a collaborative relationship between the EPA and the DOE, the NSF, and the USDA to explore energy production from waste treatment, and to develop mechanisms for improving energy efficiency in water distribution.

Climate Change

Climate change affects all of earth’s life, including the ubiquitous microbes that dominate the living mass of many ecosystems. While climate-related disturbances can have many effects, it is abundantly clear that they directly and indirectly affect the incidence of serious infectious diseases. Climate changes can also impact air and water pollution, which adversely affect human health. The effects of these changes on microbial activities are often unpredictable, but microbes nonetheless play major roles in water quality, environmental integrity and human health. Thus, it is essential that the EPA retains and expand its ability to support research on climate change, including the subsequent impacts on beneficial and pathogenic microorganisms.

The ASM is concerned that past budget reductions to the Global Climate Change research program at ORD will limit its ability to understand links between certain diseases and pathogens and climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted in 2007 that the global population at risk from vector-borne malaria would increase by between 220 million and 400 million in the next century. Other vector-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis, are also projected to spread into new areas due to global warming. Climate change may increase the risk of other infectious diseases, particularly those diseases that appear in warm areas and are spread by aquatic pathogens. For example, shellfish-borne outbreaks of gastroenteritis caused by the aquatic bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus have been associated with temperature increases in US coastal waters in recent years. In addition, increased frequencies of harmful algal blooms in warmer waters, particularly in areas subject to nutrient pollution, can lead to more frequent outbreaks of diseases like cholera. Thus, the ASM supports the Administration’s dedication to slow global warming, and asks Congress to provide sufficient funding for the ORD to continue this important research.

Conclusion The EPA requires sound scientific information to meet its mandates to protect human health and the environment. The ORD is an integral component for conducting research needed to answer many of the challenges we face, such as climate change, renewable energy, and provision of clean and safe water. The ASM urges Congress to provide at least $595 million for the ORD in FY 2010. The ASM appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony and would be pleased to assist the Subcommittee as it considers the FY 2010 appropriation for the EPA.