and inter-relatedness of environmental problems leads us to conclude that a new balance of research programs may be helpful. This report describes a framework for conducting research in a way that will help alleviate the problems of the moment while providing a basis for solving tomorrow's problems.
In the past, pressing environmental issues have been addressed primarily through focused research efforts directed toward solving particular problems. Although this approach to environmental research can be effective, has often been necessary, and will surely continue, it also has limitations. In order to address the abundance of established, emerging, and as-yet-unknown environmental issues, an expanded understanding of the scientific principles underlying environmental systems is needed. Achieving this understanding will require innovative, interdisciplinary approaches.
To develop the knowledge needed to address current and emerging environmental issues, EPA should undertake both problem-driven research and core research. Problem-driven research is targeted at understanding and solving identified environmental problems, while core research aims to provide broader, more generic information that will help improve understanding of many problems now and in the future. Core research includes three components: (1) understanding the processes that drive and connect environmental systems; (2) development of innovative tools and methods for understanding and managing environmental problems; and (3) long-term collection and dissemination of accurate environmental data.
Research activities within problem-driven and core research programs may often overlap. Fundamental discoveries can be made during the search for a solution to a narrowly defined problem; likewise, as illustrated earlier in this report, breakthroughs in problem-solving often occur as a result of core research efforts. Both kinds of investigations are needed, and feedback between them will greatly enhance the overall environmental research endeavor (see Figure 5-1).
Because EPA's task of protecting the environment and human health is so vast and difficult, and because resources to undertake the necessary research are very limited, choices will have to be made among many worthwhile projects. The approaches for making these choices will be different in the core and problem-driven portions of the research program. The former should seek better understanding of fundamental phenomena and generate broadly relevant research tools and information. The latter will be more responsive to regulatory activities and other immediate needs and should be guided by the paradigm of risk reduction. Because there are so many specific issues of importance to the public, the Congress, and EPA's own program and regional offices, there is a temptation to include many problems for attention. It is important to resist this trend: it will inevitably lead either to the dilution of efforts to solve the most pressing problems or to the reduction of funding available for critical core research needs.