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Building a Foundation for Sound Environmental Decisions
acquisition of a more systematic understanding of the physical, chemical, biological, geological, social, and economic processes that underlie environmental systems at various spatial and temporal scales, and the biochemical and physiological processes in humans that are affected by environmental agents;
development of broadly applicable research tools, including better techniques for measuring variables of interest (including both structural and functional attributes), more accurate models of complex systems and their interactions, and new methods for analyzing, displaying, and using environmental information in science-based decision making; and
design, implementation, and maintenance of appropriate environmental monitoring programs, with evaluation, analysis, synthesis, and dissemination of the data and results. These monitoring programs are essential for understanding the status of, and changes to, environmental resources over time, and for conducting retrospective evaluations of the costs and benefits of environmental policies. Retrospective evaluations are critical to ensuring that environmental policies are achieving their intended goals at a reasonable cost without creating unpredicted, undesirable side-effects.
EPA should establish an approximately even balance between problem-driven and core research. The distinction between core and problem-driven research is not always clear-cut. Research programs can have multiple goals and motivations. Yet history, experience, and political realities indicate that there is value in defining and re-emphasizing the importance of core research at EPA. (Specific examples that illustrate how a more comprehensive core research agenda would assist in understanding environmental issues are presented in shaded boxes throughout the report.)
Because the task of protecting the environment and minimizing environmentally-related human health impacts is so vast and available resources are so limited, this report suggests criteria that can be used to identify and prioritize among important research areas. The approaches for making these choices will be different in the core and problem-driven portions of the research program. Core research should seek better understanding of fundamental phenomena and generate broadly applicable research tools and information. These goals will not vary much over time and thus core research priorities will stay relatively constant. Choices between research areas should be made based on their broad relevance to EPA's mission and on scientific merit. Cross-cutting, interdisciplinary studies that draw on findings from different fields will be of particular value. After broad program areas are selected, a key criterion for selecting core research projects is the quality of the proposed science and the ability of the investigators, as determined by a peer-review process.
Problem-driven research will be more responsive to regulatory activities and other immediate needs and should be targeted at maximizing reduction of risks. Evaluation of problem-driven research areas should focus on the risks and uncertainties