Using that information as a basis, the committee adopted the following process for selecting subjects for this report:
Via the call for comments and forum discussion, the committee developed a list of some 30-odd topics that could possibly be discussed in the report.
The committee then selected the topics that they believed to be the most important for the scientific and engineering community to focus on, given the current intellectual and financial resources devoted to each. Eight topics were selected.
Of the eight topics, six eventually emerged as subjects for the chapters of this report (several topics were merged).
The six topics are
Economics and risk assessment.
Environmental monitoring and ecology.
Chemicals in the environment.
The energy system.
The chapter titles incorporate those topics but have been revised to reflect the content of the chapters.
Many other topics are also important, but the committee believes that they are already receiving considerable attention elsewhere. For example, two major global environmental problems have not been addressed in this report: climate change and biodiversity. For both, international treaties have been signed, goals and plans have been developed, and substantial international research resources are being applied. The committee believes that these two very important environmental issues needed no further committee discussion.
The committee's conclusions and recommendations regarding the chosen topics follow, with some discussion of the nature of goals and the environment.
In recent years, many segments of society have become concerned about the economic impact of environmental regulation. Business, government, and individuals together spend an estimated $150–180 billion of their revenues each year to meet environmental regulations.
Present regulatory strategies do not sufficiently differentiate between minor and major risks. Furthermore, the costs incurred to reduce risks often do not bear a consistent relation to the magnitude of the risks and the number of people potentially affected. The nation's existing environmental goals could be met less expensively or faster by substituting incentive-based approaches to environmental