political salience and news media coverage, and by other factors that are not directly related to environmental or human health hazard. All too often, however, those same factors drive research priorities as well and are compounded by organizational imperatives, such as the maintenance of established research staff and program capabilities. One result is a tendency toward heavy investment in well-studied, continuing regulatory problems (such as criteria air pollutants), and in ''crash' programs on new problems that attract political attention (such as acid rain and hazardous waste sites). The results often are serious underinvestments in research on other important questions that have not yet attracted as much attention (such as waste reduction, basic understanding of ecosystems, and long-term chemical toxicity).

Applied environmental research differs from basic research in that it attempts to understand and remedy practical problems. Its priorities should therefore pertain to the relative severity of such problems and the likelihood of solving them. However, this approach does not mean its priorities should be shaped primarily by current regulatory demands, because these demands themselves are rarely based either on systematic assessment of relative risks and opportunities or on any careful assessment of the likelihood that the results of research efforts would help to produce substantially better environmental conditions.

An effective program of applied environmental research would include a process for setting research and development priorities largely independent of immediate regulatory priorities. Priority setting would be guided by relative risks, amenability to research, and the quality of research proposed It would also be guided by the need to provide a balance among the four functions of research identified above: to promote understanding, to find solutions, to inform policy, and to evaluate policy effectiveness. A process for setting research and development priorities that met those four goals well would provide the greatest possible overall benefit to regulatory programs, even though regulations directed at hazards that were less severe or less amenable to research solutions would receive less research attention than other topics.

Several research topics meet the criteria noted above and should be considered for addition to environmental agencies' research agendas. Topics identified by the committee include applied social science research (especially in the area of waste reduction) coordinated research of ecosystems and landscape change, anticipatory research program development, and improved methods for predicting long-term chemical toxicity.

Whatever the reasons—inadequate budgets, the momentum of existing research programs and personnel, pressures associated with regulatory priorities, resistance within EPA to new subjects of research, opposition from budget officials outside the agency, or some combination of these—important topics of applied environmental research have not received adequate attention. This failure constitutes a serious barrier to EPA's effective performance of its mission, and it must be remedied.

The subjects considered by the BEST committee illustrate the general problem.

  • Waste Reduction. For 2 decades, EPA's primary tool for environmental protection has been the mandatory imposition of pollution control technologies. Its research program therefore has been overwhelmingly devoted to the environmental transport and fate of pollutants, their health effects, and the development and assessment of pollution control technologies. EPA has recently announced a fundamental change in emphasis, asserting that further progress in environmental protection will require systematic incentives for waste reduction (that is, for actions that will reduce or prevent the generation of waste materials and the use of energy through changes in input and production processes and through on-site recycling). The implementation of such incentives, however, requires not only changes in technological research priorities, but also research in the applied social sciences. It requires understanding of the economics of material and energy use, and of the human behavior patterns and influencing factors that drive economic patterns; and it requires empirical evaluation of the effects of policy incentives, both those intended to reduce waste and those that might inadvertently increase it. Understanding of environmental processes, health effects, and pollution control technologies is also necessary, but by itself it is insufficient to meet the goal of environmental protection.

In other words, waste reduction must be rooted

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