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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment Executive Summary We stand at a time when science and engineering have the tools to address environmental problems of enormous consequence to our social and economic well-being. But we are not using those tools most effectively. Rather, federal environmental research and policy are trying to cope with today's problems by using a system that was constructed when the problems perceived to be important were different. The purpose of this report, by the Committee on Environmental Research in the National Research Council's Commission on Life Sciences, is to suggest how the nation can organize its science and engineering resources and organize itself to address environmental problems of local, regional, national, and global scope. The activities of people in large numbers have been the major force in making our planet less able to meet the needs of people of coming generations. The daily activities of people have so affected the chemistry of the atmosphere that various trace gases–such as carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorine compounds–are present in increasing concentrations. People have injected an enormous variety and quantity of chemicals not only into the air, but also into water and soil. Some of those chemicals might endanger us or our children, and we must learn how to deal with them. People have altered the landscape of much of the earth. Lakes have been made, and the Aral Sea is drying up. Vast land areas have been devoted to agriculture, and vast new areas of desert have appeared. Those changes have made many areas more hospitable and have allowed greater numbers of people to be clothed and fed; but they have also disrupted ecological systems that benefit humans, and many thousands of species have become extinct. The nation's ''system" to address those and other environmental challenges consists of hundreds of programs distributed in more than 20 federal agencies that invest about $5 billion a year in research and development related to the environment. The committee's assessment of the federal environmental programs and the system for organizing and managing them shows substantial strengths and weaknesses. Among the strengths, the United States is blessed with an impressive array of scientific, managerial, and
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment political talent. It also has a citizenry that is as informed and concerned as that of any nation, even though its knowledge and involvement are much less than would be desirable. Federal agencies spend large sums of money on environmental research, which has produced much useful information in support of their missions. Cooperative programs addressing important environmental problems have been organized, such as the Office of Science and Technology Policy's successful coordination of the global-change program. These strengths need to be maintained and improved. The committee also finds the following weaknesses that need to be addressed: The research establishment is poorly structured to deal with complex, interdisciplinary research on large spatial scales and long-term temporal scales. These traits characterize the primary needs of an effective environmental research program. There is no comprehensive national environmental research plan to coordinate the efforts of the more than 20 agencies involved in environmental programs. Moreover, no agency has the mission to develop such a plan, nor is any existing agency able to coordinate and oversee a national environmental research plan if one were developed. The lack of an integrated national research plan weakens the ability of the United States to work creatively with governments of other nations to solve regional and global problems. The nation's environmental efforts have no clear leadership. As suggested by the lack of a cabinet-level environmental agency, the United States has lacked strong commitment to environmental research at the highest levels of government. Environmental matters have been regarded as less important than defense, health, transportation, and other government functions. Although individual agencies and associations of agencies analyze data to provide a base for decisions on strategies and actions to address specific environmental problems, no comprehensive "think-tank" exists for assessing data to support understanding of the environment as a whole and the modeling of trends whose understanding might help to set priorities for research and action. Bridges between policy, management, and science are weak. There is no organized system whereby assessments of environmental problems can be communicated to decision-makers and policy-setters. Long-term monitoring and assessment of environmental trends and of the consequences of environmental rules and regulations are seriously inadequate. The United States has a poor understanding of its biological
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment resources and how they are being affected by human activities. Although biological surveys have a long history at the state and federal level in the United States, only very recently are we approaching a consensus on the need for a comprehensive, national biological survey. There is insufficient attention to the collection and management of the vast amount of data being developed by the 20 agencies involved in environmental research. Collection and management of environmental life-science data are less well organized than those of environmental physical-science data. Education and training in the nation's universities are still strongly disciplinary, whereas solution of environmental problems requires broadly trained people and multidisciplinary approaches. Opportunities for broadly based interdisciplinary graduate degrees are few, and faculty are not rewarded as strongly for interdisciplinary activities as they are for disciplinary activities. Thus, there is a risk that environmental scientists appropriately trained to address pressing needs will be lacking. Biological-science and social-science components of environmental research are poorly supported, compared with the (still inadequate) support given to the physical sciences. Research on engineering solutions to environmental problems is seriously underfunded. That reduces our ability to protect and restore damaged ecosystems to productivity and jeopardizes the nation's ability to achieve major economic benefits that are certain to derive from increasing worldwide employment of technologies for these purposes. With respect to environmental affairs, government operates in a strongly adversarial relationship with both industry and the general public, to the detriment of integrated planning and maintenance of an atmosphere of mutual trust that is essential for effective government functioning. With important exceptions in the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), most federal environmental R&D is narrow, supporting either a regulatory or a management function. That appears to be particularly true in the environmental life sciences. This committee recommends cultural changes and organizational changes to correct those weaknesses. Some of the cultural changes require new offices or programs and are thus both cultural and organizational changes. The organizational changes are ways to incorporate all the cultural changes into a comprehensive system for effective environmental research and communication of the results to decision-makers.
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment CULTURAL CHANGES The committee uses the term culture to refer to the institutionalized beliefs, values, policies, and practices that characterize the administration of an agency's environmental research program and the nation's overall effort. For example, it refers to an agency's use of intramural research versus extramural research and to an agency's focus on mission-oriented research, rather than on research with potentially broader applications. With respect to a national environmental research program, it refers to the development of agency research programs with minimal reference to the cognate work in other agencies and with minimal consideration of the fit of the research in a coordinated national effort to address environmental problems. We believe that our recommendations for changes can improve the effectiveness of our environmental research effort, no matter what new organizational arrangements might be made. Implementation of the cultural changes should be systemic, that is, they should be used throughout the government environmental research system. RESEARCH DIRECTED TO PROTECTION, RESTORATION, AND MANAGEMENT The committee recommends that environmental research advance the social goals of protecting the environment for present and future generations, restoring damaged environmental functions so that they are once more ecologically productive, and managing our natural, economic, cultural, and human resources in ways that encourage the sustainable use of the environment. In advancing those three goals, environmental research should, first, collect and analyze information needed in and outside government to pursue the goals; second, improve our knowledge of the fundamental processes that shape the natural world and the human behavior that affects that world; and, third, apply the knowledge to solving environmental problems with a comprehensive management strategy in the context of economic and social needs. The terms protection, restoration, and management set out directions in which environmental action should proceed; the terms should not be taken to imply absolute goals.
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment NATIONAL-LEVEL LEADERSHIP AND COORDINATION The directions for environmental research must be set and responsibilities among various federal agencies must be coordinated at the executive level because environmental research is of the highest national importance. The setting of national directions requires both leadership by an official at the highest level of the administration, because it is a national priority, and the participation of those who are responsible for the agencies that will be conducting the federal program. The federal program will operate within the context of the entire national environmental research program, that must include the efforts of scientists, state and local governments, the public, and the private sector. It must ultimately be accountable to and responsive to the public. Therefore, there should be linkages to these communities, perhaps through a system of advisory committees. The committee recommends the establishment of a National Environmental Council in the executive office of the president to be chaired by the vice president. It should be composed of the heads of the federal environmental agencies. Advisory committees for the council should be established to represent the scientific community, the public, state government and the private sector. The council should provide national leadership and coordination among the federal agencies for environmental research and oversee implementation of the National Environmental Plan. NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL PLAN FOR RESEARCH There are many demands on the nation's overall resources and many competing ideas about relative priorities for a program of environmental research. A number of constituencies have a right and deserve to play a role in setting these priorities. Duplication of effort or omissions in a research program can occur in a field as important and complex as environmental research. A comprehensive national plan for environmental research is required. The committee recommends the development of a National Environmental Plan that will form the basis for coordinating environmental research responsibilities of federal agencies. The plan, which identifies the nation's environmental research agenda and the
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment responsibilities of the individual agencies, should be updated every 2 years and comprehensively reconsidered every 5 years in the expectation that it will evolve. The National Environmental Council should take primary responsibility for ensuring that the plan is developed. In doing so, it should reach out, through the use of appropriate advisory committees, to the states, the private sector, nongovernment organizations, and the academic research community to ensure their participation in developing the plan and thereby to encourage them to participate in implementing it. Our National Environmental Plan differs from the "National Environmental Strategy" recommended by the National Commission on the Environment in that the latter focuses on policy issues, such as economic incentives to improve the environment, whereas ours concentrates on research. The two ideas are complementary. LINKAGE OF ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND POLICY Among the most important roles of environmental research is creation of a foundation of sound information on which to base the policies that are necessary to protect, restore, and manage the nation's environmental resources. However, the link between environmental data and information and their use in decision-making is now weak within agencies and almost absent when larger issues that cross agency boundaries are in question. The committee believes that linkages between science and decisions need to be strengthened at all levels. It would be highly advantageous to ensure that the best scientific information is translated into strong and defensible policies for protection, restoration, and management. The two-part effort we recommend would supplement the present situation, in which each federal agency assesses environmental data to develop policy applicable to its own mission needs. We recommend the establishment of an Environmental Assessment Center in which large environmental issues that cross agency mission boundaries can be assessed and policy options developed. We recommend that an official (and staff) of this center serve as an environmental "intelligence officer" whose task will be to convey the
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment policy options to decision-makers in the National Environmental Council, to Congress, and to other involved parties. It would be advantageous if the center were represented also on the president's National Security Council and Economic Council, in recognition that decisions on environmental issues strongly influence national security and the national economy. PERFORMANCE OF ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH Fundamental changes must be made in how environmental research is conducted and used within the federal research enterprise. We recommend the following essential changes to strengthen the nation's environmental research: Fundamental advances in understanding and in factual knowledge are needed if we are to grasp and to solve urgent environmental problems. Research should enlarge our comprehension of and ability to observe the components of the environment, deepen our understanding of how transfers of energy and materials occur among those components, and improve our knowledge of the interactions among components. The current strength of disciplinary research must be maintained, but more research must be multiscale and multidisciplinary to match the characteristics of the phenomena that we seek to understand. Research must cross the boundaries of mission agencies for the same reason. It must be international in scope, foster collaboration between public and private sectors, and include the valuable contributions of state environmental organizations and nongovernment organizations. Research must be economical. It must be of high quality. It must have stable funding bases. It should be pluralistic in approach and be supported by multiple funding strategies with proper regard for balance between intramural and peer-reviewed extramural support. It must provide for the support and training of the next generation of
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment scientists while providing for appropriate development of instrumentation and facilities for research. Only in that way can the nation's environmental research be efficient in solving problems and effective in contributing to international competitiveness and economic strength. BALANCE As environmental research has evolved, substantial imbalance in emphasis has developed. Imbalance exists in the funding of disciplinary fields of research, in the distribution between intramural and extramural performance of research, and in the type of research–disciplinary versus multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary research–that is supported. The physical sciences have been emphasized to a greater degree than biology, and both the physical sciences and biology have fared better than the social sciences and engineering. We believe that a more balanced program will be important in the future. Although imbalance in the funding patterns is evident, we are concerned primarily about asymmetry in program emphasis and in intellectual leadership. The committee recommends that all relevant environmental disciplines be supported and that additional emphasis be placed on the biological and social sciences and on engineering. The committee recommends continued emphasis on disciplinary research supporting the protection, restoration, and management of environmental systems, and increased emphasis on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research with the same goals. The committee recommends that mission and sector agencies substantially expand their extramurally funded research programs, creating such programs where appropriate. These should provide maximal opportunity for the nation's academic and other nonfederal researchers to avail themselves of national environmental research opportunities. The principles of competitively awarded, peer-reviewed, investigator-initiated awards should be applied.
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment CONTINUOUS MONITORING OF THE NATION'S ENVIRONMENTAL STATUS The United States has a wealth of natural resources. Although these resources must be used to support the quality of human life, their use must be managed in such a way that they are sustained for future generations. We must therefore know the status of and changes in the resources if we are protect, restore, and manage them. Many agencies have legal responsibility for different components of these resources, so a coordinated program among the agencies for measuring the status and trends of the resources is necessary. We recommend the initiation of the National Environmental Status and Trends Program to be coordinated by the National Environmental Council to function as an integrated cooperative program among the federal agencies to inventory and monitor the status and trends of the nation's natural resources. A national biological survey of appropriate scope would be a valuable addition to the existing programs and an important component of the status and trends program. The National Biological Survey initiated by the Department of the Interior, if of appropriate scope, will assist in meeting this recommendation. ORGANIZING ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION AND MAKING IT AVAILABLE Information is the currency of a strong environmental research program that will inform the best policies and practices for protecting, restoring, and managing the nation's resources. New technological developments have increased our ability to collect and manage information. Many agencies contribute to the ever-increasing amount of information, and other individuals and institutions contribute to archiving data. There must be a system to organize and handle this information and make it available for the integrated use of the biological, physical, social, and engineering sciences.
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment We recommend the establishment of a National Environmental Data and Information System to be coordinated by the National Environmental Council and conducted by the federal agencies with the best available technology to collect and make available and easily accessible a wide range of environmental data from the biological, physical, social, and engineering sciences. ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND INFORMATION The importance of developing sustainable environmental systems for future generations and thus for making the best decisions for protecting, restoring, and managing these resources is so great that both this generation and the coming ones must be informed. Educational opportunities must be provided at every level from kindergarten to graduate school. Citizens who know more about the environment can play an important role in solving environmental problems. Moreover, the nation's environmental research effort will require a supply of sophisticated scientists trained in disciplinary and interdisciplinary science. We recommend that programs be established, and present ones expanded, for educating the next generation of environmental scientists and engineers and increasing understanding of environmental issues in the general population and that information on environmental matters be built into educational programs. ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES Implementation of the cultural changes is of paramount importance but will require organizational changes and innovations in how the nation's environmental program is managed. The committee has considered four frameworks ranging from relatively minor to major change for enhancing the organization of environmental research and for ensuring that the best science is used in forming decisions and policies. Framework A (current agency structure with enhancements) preserves in large part the identity and functions
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment of existing agencies but adds a few new offices that are essential to put the critical cultural changes into effect. Framework B is the proposal of the independent Committee for the National Institute for the Environment to create such an institute. Framework C is a different institute as visualized by our committee–a National Institute for Environmental Research. Framework D is a Department of the Environment. The committee recommends that, at a minimum, Framework A (current agency structure with enhancements) be implemented. If the nation is to make major improvements in the quality and strength of its environmental research programs, we urge that the Department of the Environment described in Framework D be established. FRAMEWORK A Framework A conserves the identity and functions of existing agencies. Added, when essential, are new offices to perform functions absent in the current organization but required to implement the cultural changes that the committee has recommended. With refinements and strengthening in the individual federal agencies' programs and with additional efforts devoted to interagency coordination, improvements can be made in the nation's environmental research program to help it to meet the needs of the future. Although Framework A calls for a minimum of organizational change, it is imperative that the cultural changes recommended above be instituted if the nation is to improve its ability to address pressing environmental problems. The cultural changes provide for a National Environmental Plan as a road map for the organization of environmental programs and coordination of the use of the road map through leadership at the highest levels of government by the National Environmental Council. The research directions of protection, restoration, and management are specified, and an approach calling for fundamental research is endorsed. Essential programs for information collection (the National Environmental Data and Information System) and a National Environmental Status and Trends Program are identified. Means to assess data to develop policy options and to convey these options to decision-markers are described among the cultural changes.
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment Mission-oriented agencies and other entities that support and perform research have special roles to play. They are called on to cooperate in focusing on the research directions specified above, to perform research that contributes to the understanding of the environment while continuing to fulfill their own missions, to establish educational programs to train scientists and to increase public understanding of environmental matters, and to increase support of environmental science and engineering programs. The unique contribution of the National Science Foundation to basic research in a wide variety of environmental sciences is recognized, and its important role should be recognized by the provision of substantial additional funding for its programs in support of environmental research. FRAMEWORK D Framework D is a Department of the Environment. It is important to note that the department we recommend includes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but would not be created by elevation of EPA to cabinet level. Rather, the recommended department would have a character derived from the research orientation of NOAA and the strong and varied research and data-management programs of all the agencies to be included in the department–NOAA, EPA, USGS, and parts of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Furthermore, although our suggested department would have a regulatory function, this activity would be clearly separated from the research and operational functions. As this report is being completed, Congress is considering legislation to elevate EPA to cabinet rank. We believe that the creation of a Department of the Environment is an appropriate and long-overdue move but that, from the standpoint of environmental research, more should be done than simply elevating EPA to cabinet level. We believe that the research-oriented department we recommend is closer to what is required to improve environmental research. If EPA (as a department) is to play a more central role, it must be successful in implementing changes suggested in its own report, Safeguarding the Future: Credible Science, Credible Decisions, and the cultural changes recommended in this report. Implementation of these recommendations would substantially improve the science base at the agency
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment and increase its credibility. The committee believes that the many laws enforced and regulations promulgated by EPA dominate the attention and budgetary decisions of the agency's personnel and make difficult the development of high-quality research programs. Steps should be taken to separate the research and regulatory functions within EPA so that the research program can grow to provide the necessary science base on which to justify rules and regulations. The department described in Framework D would have research, regulatory, and operational arms and would have wide-ranging responsibilities in protection and restoration and in innovation for management of natural resources. With coordination overseen by the National Environmental Council as a major implementer of the National Environmental Plan, the department would take the lead in and be the natural home for support of training and facilities for environmental research, cooperation with the Department of the Interior for the development and management of a National Biological Survey, public information and education, management of the status and trends program, information collection and management, cooperative efforts with state and local environmental organizations, and cooperation with international environmental research organizations and development of U.S. positions for international agreements. It would be responsible for implementing all the cultural changes recommended in this report. As head of a cabinet-level department, the secretary would have entree to national policy discussions and would serve as a senior member in National Environmental Council coordinating activities. NOAA, USGS, EPA, and parts of NASA would become parts of the Department of the Environment. Coordination with research in other agencies–such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and Department of the Interior–would be effected through the National Environmental Council and ensure broad coverage of all environmental disciplines. The operational functions of agencies combined in the new department would continue under the new auspices, for example, the weather- and climate-forecasting function of NOAA and the mapping function of USGS. The regulatory functions of EPA and NOAA would become parts of the department. Those responsible for regulatory decisions would be able to use
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment the knowledge derived from the department's research, monitoring, and assessment activities to inform their decisions. Conversely, the regulatory branch of the department would advise the secretary about research required to perform and improve the department's regulatory function. The regulatory function would be administratively separate from the research functions of the department. Each of the agencies involved in land management engages in protection and restoration activities, including research. These include the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Department of Defense, and other agencies. The programs of these agencies would need to be coordinated with the work of the Department of the Environment. The Environmental Assessment Center described earlier would not be part of the department. Rather, it would be free-standing and draw on the information resources of the department and other agencies, such as those involved with human-health aspects of the environmental sciences, so that assessments and policy formation could take into account all information from the various centers of environmental science, regulation, and management. Assessment and policy formation can be effective only if they consider human health, economic, and behavioral aspects of the issue to be dealt with, as well as the natural-science and engineering aspects. The elevation of EPA to cabinet level and the efforts of the Department of the Interior to play a greater role in research on the environment (as evidenced by Secretary of the Interior Babbitt's initiative for a National Biological Survey) can be steps forward. If the cultural changes that we suggest in this report are integrated into the plans and actions of the Department of the Environment (created by elevation of EPA) and the Department of the Interior, we believe that the nation's environmental research program will be enhanced vastly. FRAMEWORKS B AND C Framework B, the National Institute for the Environment (NIE) as proposed by the Committee for the NIE, is based on ideas that converge with our own, and we are favorably impressed with many aspects of the proposal.
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment The plan is a credible and effective view of a means to organize environmental research. It would enhance the nation's ability to perform environmental research and increase knowledge that will contribute to the solution of environmental problems. We believe that NIE, because it would be a new agency that complemented but not encompass existing agency programs, could, if not carefully monitored, duplicate the roles and missions of existing agencies and engender ''turf battles" as it competed for funds and programs with the existing agencies. We believe that the creation of NIE would improve the nation's environmental research effort but does not go far enough to solve all the problems in environmental research that we have identified. Framework C is this committee's concept of a National Institute for Environmental Research that encompasses research programs of EPA, NOAA, USGS, and other agencies, rather than creating new and potentially duplicate programs. Again, after due consideration, the committee believes that the institute described in Framework C does not go far enough to solve all the problems in environmental research that we have described. COSTS AND OTHER FACTORS The costs of implementing the cultural and organizational changes that we recommend are not limited to the expenditure of dollars. Political costs and the costs of organizational disruption also come into play. Congressional jurisdiction over agencies is already cumbersome and could be further complicated by organizational changes. Reorganization of government agencies to bring similar activities into closer relationship does not always ensure good coordination. When EPA was created in 1970, the air office was moved from the Public Health Service, the water office from the Department of the Interior, and the pesticides office from the Department of Agriculture. The 1970 executive order that created EPA emphasized the need to integrate environmental actions and to consider the environment as a system. Yet, after more than two decades, the various offices within EPA continue to be fragmented. Separate statutes, separate Congressional oversight subcommittees, and separate cultures among EPA's various programs have persisted. The
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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment problems that might result from even more massive transfers of activities from other agencies to create a new structure must be considered carefully. Regarding dollar costs, implementation of Framework D would obviously be more expensive than implementation of Framework A in the short term but could be less expensive in the long term—especially if redundancies in agency work can be identified and eliminated. Although the committee has not addressed budgetary matters specifically, it believes that expenditures for environmental research should be increased for all agency programs. The cost-benefit relationships of making the changes that we recommend can be suggested but not quantified with precision. It has been estimated that many billions of dollars will be expended on environmental cleanup. The time and monetary costs of litigation, often engendered by the lack of adequate information to substantiate regulatory decisions, are large. The potential is great for economic gains from a research focus on innovation in environmental technology. The products of such research could be a major contributor to U.S. international trade while helping to remedy environmental problems. If the changes that we recommend lead to better environmental research and better decisions about the environment, the return on the investment will be large.
Representative terms from entire chapter: