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1 Introduction The stated mission of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect human health and the environment. EPA seeks to fulfill its mission by using the best available science to inform the decisions that it makes. It also seeks to ensure that federal laws related to human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively. The agency plays a major role in providing environmental and human health information to all members of society and works with other nations to facilitate the protection of the global environment (EPA 2011a). EPA is carrying out its mission at a time when science is increasingly in the public eye and controversial, science budgets are decreasing, and job crea- tion and innovation have high political priority. Science has always been an in- tegral part of EPA's activities, and scientific assessments of factors that affect human health and the environment are as important as ever. In addition, the ef- fects that humans continue to have on the environment are profound and wide- spread. An increased use of new scientific knowledge and technical information is necessary to understand increasingly complex environmental problems; to understand rapidly evolving advances in such fields as microbiology, informa- tion technology, and medicine; to set priorities for research and regulation; to identify emerging and future environmental and health concerns (NRC 2000); and to support policy, management, and technical innovations that prevent unde- sirable effects in the first place. Some of the challenges and opportunities that EPA faces include new and persistent environmental problems, changes in human activities and interactions, changes in public expectations, new models for decision-making, new scientific information, and the development of new agency mission requirements that re- quire doing more with less. EPA can meet those challenges only by using high- quality science. The present report discusses current environmental challenges and recent scientific and technologic developments, and it provides guidance to the agency as it prepares to meet the challenges of the future. 15
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16 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead THE CHANGING NATURE OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS Earthquakes, floods, fires, droughts, blizzards, dust storms, natural re- leases of toxic gases and liquids, diseases, and other environmental variations affect hundreds of millions of people each year. Many such events are exacer- bated or mitigated by human activities. In addition, humans affect the environ- ment and natural biodiversity by adding contaminants to air and water, changing land use, reducing and fragmenting the habitat of some species, introducing non- native species, and changing natural fluxes and cycles of energy and materials. It is increasingly clear that human activities are driving many changes in Earth's global environment; indeed, some scientists refer to this human-dominated pe- riod as the Anthropocene to indicate a new geologic epoch that succeeds the Holocene. The term Anthropocene has also recently come into use in the popular press (for example, New York Times 2011 and The Economist 2011) and a pro- posal to define and formalize the term is being developed by the Anthropocene Working Group for consideration by the International Committee on Stratigra- phy (SQS 2012). The challenges associated with environmental protection today are multi- faceted and affected by many interacting factors. The challenges operate on various, often large, spatial scales, unfold on long temporal scales, and usually have global implications (for example, carbon dynamics, nutrient cycles, and ocean acidification). Dealing with these problems will require systems thinking and integrated multidisciplinary science. Achieving solutions to these challenges requires increased sustainability, the pursuit of which has been called a wicked problem. The term wicked prob- lem has been used in the field of social planning to describe a problem that is difficult to solve because it is difficult to define clearly, resistant to resolution, and inadequately understood; it has multiple causes that interact in complex ways; it attracts attempted solutions that often result in unforeseen conse- quences; it is often not stable; it usually has no clear solution or endpoint but rather solutions that are considered better, worse, or good enough; it is socially complex and has multiple stakeholders who must consider the changing behav- ior of others; and it rarely sits conveniently within the understanding of one dis- cipline or the responsibility of any one organization. Moreover, because of com- plex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems (Rittel and Webber 1973; DeGrace and Stahl 1990). There is no doubt that the environmental pollution problems of today fit the characteristics of wicked problems. The environment is variable, complex, and difficult to predict. That diffi- culty is in part due to imperfect scientific knowledge about environmental proc- esses, but it is also a consequence of imperfect knowledge about economic, demographic, and social processes that drive environmental change and the feedback effects of environmental change on economic, demographic, and social processes. Sustainable pathways to address environmental and human health challenges will only emerge if societies choose to pursue sustainable solutions
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Introduction 17 and devote resources to successfully designing sustainable policies. Fully inte- grating sustainability as it relates to the environment and human health requires identifying and contending with tradeoffs within complex economic, cultural, and political systems. Addressing the emerging challenges that EPA faces will require not only good science and technologies, but data and information from disciplines such as social, behavioral, and decision sciences and the integration of broader frameworks that will allow a systems approach to assessing and man- aging issues. Frameworks for Incorporating HumanEnvironment Interactions To respond effectively to complex and rapidly changing problems, it will be important for EPA to strive toward incorporating a broader array of interactions between humans and the environment into its regulatory and decision-making processes, identify optimal ways to advance core human development and sustain- ability goals, understand the tradeoffs that necessarily accompany decisions about specific ways to use environmental resources, and align response options with the level of governance at which options can be most effective. Several frameworks have been developed to identify and incorporate the full array of interactions be- tween humans and the natural environment into planning and evaluation. The framework proposed by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) (MEA 2003, 2005) is useful because it includes the intrinsic value of biodiversity and ecosystems and recognizes that people use multiple criteria when making deci- sions about how to use the environment. The MEA framework focuses particular attention on the linkages between ecosystem services and human well-being (Fig- ure 1-1) and also stresses the roles of science and engineering as direct and indi- rect drivers of environmental change. Similar frameworks have been developed by committees of the National Research Council (NRC) (NRC 2000, 2004) and EPA's Science Advisory Board (EPA SAB 2002, 2009). The Heinz Center (2002, 2008) also developed a comprehensive framework for assessing the state of the nation's ecosystems. The frameworks highlight the importance of a comprehensive conceptual model of the environmental system that includes its structural elements, compo- sitional elements, and dynamic functional properties. They also all direct atten- tion to the supporting services (primary production, nutrient cycling, and soil formation) that are necessary for the generation of all other ecosystem services. EPA can draw upon those frameworks and increase its use of systems thinking as it incorporates new knowledge and technical tools into its science and man- agement activities. Taking advantage of those types of frameworks will require scientific consortia that can provide an improved understanding of the problem, create opportunities for interactions between diverse areas of specialization, and integrate knowledge to identify effective solutions. This is a large job for any single agency or organization, so it will be imperative that networks and partner- ships be created or enhanced. It will also be necessary for EPA to communicate
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18 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead with a wide range of experts, particularly for integrating emerging work in so- cial sciences and information technology with advances in exposure assessment and risk assessment. SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING AT THE US ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY EPA has been aware of the implications of the rapid growth of scientific data, concepts, and technical tools and has begun to incorporate many scientific advances into its major activities. It has also made substantial efforts to compre- hend the unprecedented complexities of emerging environmental problems and to prepare to respond appropriately to the challenges that these developments pose for both its research and its regulatory responsibilities. However, because EPA is a regulatory agency and is not fundamentally a science agency, the role EPA plays supporting science to protect the environment and human health can sometimes be challenging. FIGURE 1-1 The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment conceptual framework. Indirect drivers of change (such as demographics, economic factors, science, and technology) can cause changes in ecosystems, which in turn can have direct effects on human well-being. These interactions can exist on local, regional, and global scales and can cause changes in both the short term and long term. Direct and indirect feedbacks among drivers are com- mon. For more information on this particular framework, see MEA 2003 and MEA 2005. Source: Adapted from MEA 2003.
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Introduction 19 Since its formation in 1970, EPA has played a leadership role in develop- ing many fields of environmental science and engineering, from ecology to health sciences and environmental engineering to analytic chemistry. EPA has performed, supported, and stimulated academic research; developed environ- mental education programs; supported regional science initiatives; supported the development and application of new technologies; and, most important, en- hanced the scientific information that creates a basis for regulatory decisions (NRC 2000, 2003; Collins et al. 2008; Darnall et al. 2008; Kyle et al. 2008; San- chez et al. 2008; NRC 2011). The broad reach of EPA science has also influ- enced international policies and guided state and local actions. Some examples of traditional EPA science-based and engineering-based initiatives are identify- ing emerging ecologic and health problems, monitoring trends in ecologic sys- tems and pollution, identifying human health hazards, measuring and modeling population exposures, developing pollution-control technologies, supporting health-based enforcement and standard-setting, tracking environmental im- provement, and incorporating green chemistry concepts and pollution prevention solutions. Environmental Protection Agency Successes EPA has successfully contributed to the reduction of pollution and im- proved public health, human welfare, and environmental and ecosystem quality. Its success has stemmed largely from the establishment and enforcement of its regulatory programs under the Safe Drinking Water Act; the Clean Water Act; the Clean Air Act; the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act; the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (also known as Superfund); the Toxic Substances Control Act; and other statutes. Such success would not be possible without scientific and engineering support within the agency and outside by universities, colleges, and partnering agencies and companies. An example of EPA's success involves the regulation of air pol- lutants. Many conventional air pollutants have been dramatically reduced over a 20-year period (Figure 1-2)--a demonstration of the remarkable success that the United States has achieved by amending and enforcing the Clean Air Act. It is expensive to implement the Clean Air Act, but it has resulted in improved eco- nomic welfare, including better health, improved labor productivity, and less morbidity and mortality due to air pollution (EPA 2011b). As shown in Table 1-1, there have been large declines in the emissions of nitrogen oxide gases, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, sulfur di- oxide, lead, and particulate matter smaller than 10 µm in diameter and smaller than 2.5 µm in diameter over the last 30 years. Despite a doubling of the US gross domestic product during that period and large increases in vehicle-miles traveled, population, energy consumption, and carbon dioxide emissions, regula- tion of the transportation and industrial sectors has reduced emissions of con- ventional air pollutants and brought about cleaner air (see Figure 1-2).
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20 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead FIGURE 1-2 Gross trends in drivers and aggregate emissions since 1980 in the United States. Source: EPA 2012a. TABLE 1-1 Change in Conventional Air Pollutant Emissions Over the Last 3 Decades Change, % 19802010 1990 2010 2000 2010 Carbon monoxide (CO) -71 -60 -44 Lead (Pb) -97 -60 -33 Nitrogen oxides (NOx) -52 -48 -41 Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) -63 -52 -35 Direct particulate matter less than 10 µm -83a -67 -50 in diameter (PM10) Direct particulate matter less than 2.5 µm ---b -55 -55 in diameter (PM2.5) Sulfur dioxide (SO2) -69 -65 -50 a Direct PM10 emissions for 1980 are based on data since 1985. b --- Trend data not available. Source: EPA2012a.
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Introduction 21 In 2010, in recognition of the agency's 40th anniversary, a distinguished group of environmental professionals representing government, nongovernment organizations, and the private sector assembled to identify EPA's key achieve- ments (Aspen Institute 2010). The list included removing lead from gasoline to improve air quality and children's health, reducing acid rain to improve water quality in lakes and streams, reducing exposure to second-hand smoke by identi- fying environmental tobacco smoke as a human carcinogen, spurring improve- ments in vehicle efficiency and emission control, testing requirements and en- couraging "green chemistry", banning widespread use of dichlorodiphenyltri- chloroethane (DDT), encouraging a shift to rethinking of waste as materials, and highlighting concerns about environmental justice. EPA scientists and engineers have been at the center of each of those accomplishments, developing cutting- edge tools for modeling and monitoring natural and engineered environmental systems, designing regulatory approaches to encourage private-sector innova- tion, and interpreting health and ecosystem science that is generated by external sources to inform policy decisions (EPA 2012b,c). EPA's role in advancing environmental science and engineering contin- ues. The agency leads research and development efforts, such as codevelopment of a system that provides early warning for water utilities to detect potential con- tamination (EPA 2011c). The agency is leading efforts to transform chemical toxicity testing by developing a cutting-edge computational toxicology center via unprecedented trans-federal collaborations with the National Institutes of Health (especially the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program) and the Food and Drug Administration (EPA 2012d). This interagency cooperation has resulted in the development of Tox21. The agency also leads work with Canada to assess the condition and protection of the Great Lakes (EPA 2009). EPA is the only major agency that is supporting the development of new molecular methods for assessing viruses in groundwa- ter, Cryptosporidium and other emerging pathogens in water, and microbial source tracking tools for addressing impairment. And EPA continues to play a leading role internationally in advancing the scientific understanding of conti- nental-scale and global-scale atmospheric chemistry and transport with recent efforts to refine models for short-term forecast applications and efforts to under- stand how air-quality problems might be affected by long-term climate change. Challenges Facing the Environmental Protection Agency EPA scientists and engineers are addressing some of the nation's most complex technical challenges, such as standard-setting for chemical pollutants, dealing with emerging waterborne pathogens, and protection of air and water resources. Owing to its legislative mandates, EPA investigations are often initi- ated in response to a crisis or new information that identifies a hazard to human health or the environment. Much of EPA's science has been reactive, addressing problems after they have become widespread and focusing on cleanup or "end of
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22 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead pipe" solutions, rather than proactive and oriented toward long-term goals that will help the agency to address and possibly prevent environmental problems in the future. Today, despite its considerable successes, science at EPA is facing un- precedented challenges. An NRC report, Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment, identified new approaches to formulate environmental problems, assess risks, and evaluate decision options (NRC 2009), which would facilitate systems thinking and innovative problem-solving discussed in the current report. Another recent NRC report, Sustainability and the U.S. EPA, identified broader tools incorporating economics and social sciences for evaluating decision op- tions and formulating research programs (NRC 2011). By acknowledging past achievements and current efforts but also recognizing the many challenges that EPA faces, the current report seeks to provide advice on the initiation of new directions and approaches for science at EPA to ensure that the agency continues to generate and make effective use of the world-class science and engineering that are needed to accomplish its mission. Specific challenges that EPA faces today and will likely face in the future and tools and technologies to address them are elaborated on in Chapters 2 and 3 of this report. THE COMMITTEE'S TASK EPA asked NRC to assess independently the overall capabilities of the agency to develop, obtain, and use the best available scientific and technologic information and tools to meet persistent, emerging, and future mission chal- lenges and opportunities. Those challenges and opportunities include new and persistent environmental problems, changes in human activities and interactions, changes in public expectations, new risk-assessment and risk-management para- digms, new models for decision-making, and new agency mission requirements. EPA asked that special consideration be given to a potentially increasing em- phasis on transdisciplinary approaches, systems-based problem-solving, scien- tific and technologic innovation, and greater involvement of communities and stakeholders. NRC was also asked to identify and assess transitional options to strengthen the agency's ability to pursue the aforementioned scientific informa- tion and tools. In response, it convened the Committee on Science for EPA's Future, which prepared the present report. The committee's full statement of task is provided in Appendix A, and biographic information on the committee is in Appendix B. To accomplish its task, the committee held six meetings from June 2011 to April 2012. The first two meetings included public sessions during which the committee heard from several EPA staff and from a principal investigator at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In writing its report, the committee gathered information through communication with EPA staff, from resources on EPA's website, peer-reviewed scientific literature, and reviews and
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Introduction 23 reports written by numerous other government agencies, nongovernment organi- zations, and independent advisory groups. ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT The committee's report covers a broad array of topics that reflect EPA's expansive scope to protect human health and the environment and its leadership role in local, state, and international science. In addition to EPA's need to pro- vide scientific information that will act as the basis of regulatory decision- making, it plays a role in stimulating and supporting academic research, envi- ronmental-education programs, and regional science initiatives and in providing support for safer technologies. Science is needed to support EPA as both a regu- latory agency and as a leader in environmental science and engineering. While this report focuses on the issues of science, data, and information management, it recognizes that the policy changes facing EPA and environmental protection more broadly are important. This report is organized into six chapters and four appendixes. Chapter 2 discusses persistent challenges that EPA is facing now and emerging challenges that may be important to EPA in the future. In the context of those challenges, Chapter 3 aims to provide information on emerging tools and technologies for environmental protection and the application of those emerging tools and tech- nologies. Chapter 4 addresses approaches for EPA to remain at the leading edge of environmental science and engineering, to evaluate and synthesize leading- edge science to inform decisions, to deliver science within and outside the agency, and to strengthen its science capacity. Specific details related to " omics" technologies and information technology are elaborated on in Appen- dixes C and D, respectively. Chapter 5 specifically addresses enhanced science leadership and scientific capacity at EPA. Chapter 6 summarizes the commit- tee's main findings and recommendations. The committee uses the word science in this report in two distinctive ways. One refers to the processes--collectively called the scientific method--by which new information is generated (that is, research). The second way refers to the body of knowledge produced by scientific methods--that is, the resulting data. EPA both conducts high-quality research and uses scientifically generated information in many ways. The challenges and tools and technologies that the committee discusses are meant to be examples of the types of problems EPA faces now, the types of problems EPA could potentially face in the future, and the types of tools and technologies that could help to solve current, persistent, and emerging environmental challenges. The committee cannot anticipate all of the problems of the future and the tools and technologies that will be needed to address those problems, so it has focused on describing a framework that will help EPA to be better prepared in the future. Some of the committee's findings and recommendations concern the agency's science programs, and many are
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24 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead related to EPA's role in synthesizing data to inform policy decisions and the establishment of regulations, and to stimulate thinking in new ways. The mechanism or mechanisms through which EPA chooses to address the recom- mendations will depend on its funding, its priorities, and what environmental science and engineering areas it wants to focus its efforts on in the future. Be- cause the committee's report will become dated as science evolves and as les- sons continue to be learned about best practices for protecting human health and the environment, it may be beneficial for EPA to carry out a similar type of ex- ercise at regular intervals in the future. REFERENCES Aspen Institute. 2010. EPA 40th Anniversary: 10 Ways EPA has Strengthened America. Aspen Institute, November 2010 [online]. Available: http://www.aspeninstitute.org/ sites/default/files/content/docs/events/EPA_40_Brochure.pdf [accessed Nov. 18, 2011]. Collins, F. S., G.M. Gray, and J.R. Bucher. 2008. Transforming environmental health protection. Science 319(5865):906-907. Darnall, N., G.J. Jolley, and R. Handfield. 2008. Environmental management systems and green supply chain management: Complements for sustainability? Bus. Strat. Env. 18(1):30-45. DeGrace, P., and L.H. Stahl. 1990. Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions: A Catalog of Modern Engineering Paradigms, 1st Ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Yourdon Press. EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency). 2009. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. US Environmental Protection Agency [online]. Available: http://www. epa.gov/greatlakes/glwqa/usreport/part6.html [accessed Jan. 20, 2012]. EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency). 2011a. Our Mission and What We Do. US Environmental Protection Agency [online]. Available: http://www.epa.gov/about epa/whatwedo.html [accessed Mar. 19, 2012]. EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency). 2011b. The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020. Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Pro- tection Agency, Washington, DC. March 2011 [online]. Available: http://www. epa.gov/oar/sect812/feb11/fullreport.pdf [accessed July 21, 2012]. EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency). 2011c. Enhancing Water Security: EPA Prepares for Intentional Contamination Incidents. Science Matters Newsletter. US Environmental Protection Agency [online]. Available: http://www.epa.gov/science matters/september2011/contamination.htm [accessed Jan. 20, 2012]. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 2012a. Air Quality Trends [online]. Avail- able: http://www.epa.gov/airtrends/aqtrends.html#comparison [accessed July 30, 2012]. EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency). 2012b. Economic Incentives. National Center for Environmental Economics, US Environmental Protection Agency [online]. Available: http://yosemite.epa.gov/ee/epa/eed.nsf/pages/EconomicIncenti ves.html [accessed Jan. 20, 2012]. EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency). 2012c. SPARC. US Environmental Protec- tion Agency [online]. Available: http://www.epa.gov/athens/research/projects/sparc/ [accessed Mar. 27, 2012]. EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency). 2012d. Computational Toxicology Re- search Program. US Environmental Protection Agency [online]. Available: http://www.epa.gov/ncct/ [accessed Feb. 4, 2012].
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Introduction 25 EPA SAB (US Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board). 2002. A Framework for Assessing and Reporting on Ecological Condition: Executive Summary. EPA-SAB-EPEC-02-009A. US Environmental Protection Agency Sci- ence Advisory Board, Washington, DC. September 2002 [online]. Available: http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/CB5152C32D7EE6278525710000683FD 3/$File/epec02009a.pdf [accessed Mar. 27, 2012]. EPA SAB (US Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board). 2009. Valu- ing the Protection of Evological Systems and Services: A Report of the EPA Sci- ence Advisory Board. EPA-SAB-09-012. US Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board, Washington, DC. May 2009 [online]. Available: http:// yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/WebBOARD/SAB-09-012/$File/SAB%20Adv isory%20Report%20full%20web.pdf [accessed July 21, 2012]. Heinz Center (The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environ- ment). 2002. The State of the Nation's Ecosystems: Measuring the Lands, Waters, and Living Resources of the United States. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Heinz Center (The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environ- ment). 2008. The State of the Nation's Ecosystems 2008: Measuring the Lands, Waters, and Living Resources of the United States. Washington, DC: Island Press. Kyle, J.W., J.K. Hammitt, H.W. Lim, A.C. Geller, L.H. Hall-Jordan, E.W. Maibach, E.C. De Fabo, and M.C. Wagner. 2008. Economic evaluation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's SunWise Program: Sun protection education for young chil- dren. Pediatrics 121(5): e1074-e1084. MEA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment). 2003. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: A Framework for Assessment. Washington, DC: Island Press [online]. Available: http://pdf.wri.org/ecosystems_human_wellbeing.pdf [accessed July 30, 2012]. MEA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment). 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis. Washington, DC: Island Press [online]. Available: http://www.maweb. org/documents/document.356.aspx.pdf [accessed July 30, 2012]. New York Times. 2011. Editorial: The Anthropocene. New York Times, February 27, 2011[online]. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/28/opinion/28mon4.html ?_r=2 [accessed Nov. 18, 2011]. NRC (National Research Council). 2000. Ecological Indicators for the Nation. Washing- ton, DC: National Academy Press. NRC (National Research Council). 2003. The Measure of STAR: Review of the US En- vironmental Protection Agency's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Research Grants Program. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. NRC (National Research Council). 2004. Valuing Ecosystem Services: Toward Better Environmental Decision-Making. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. NRC (National Research Council). 2009. Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk As- sessment. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. NRC (National Research Council). 2011. Sustainability and the US EPA. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Rittel, H., and M. Webber. 1973. Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sci. 4(2):155-169. Sanchez, M.C., R.E. Brown, C. Webber, and G.K. Homan. 2008. Savings estimates for the United States Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR voluntary product labeling program. Energ. Policy 36(6):2098-2108. SQS (Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy). 2012. Working Group on the `An- thropopocene'. Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy.[online]. Available:
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26 Science For Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead http://www.quaternary.stratigraphy.org.uk/workinggroups/anthropocene/ [accessed July 22, 2012]. The Economist. 2011. The Anthropocene: A Man-Made World. The Economist, May 26, 2011 [online]. Available: http://www.economist.com/node/18741749 [accessed Nov. 17, 2011].