DESIRABLE CHARACTERISTICS OF FEDERALLY SUPPORTED ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH PROGRAMS
A FOCUS OF ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH ON PROTECTION, RESTORATION, AND MANAGEMENT
The committee believes that environmental research should advance the social goals of protecting the environment for present and future generations, restoring damaged environments so that they are productive once more, and managing our natural, economic, cultural, and human resources in ways that encourage the sustainable use of the environment.
We include management as a social goal because we believe that finding ways to manage our resources is one of the great challenges of our time. Environmental systems consist not only of natural resources, but also of linkages with interrelated economic, social, political, and cultural processes. We must find ways to help the developing world to raise its standard of living and at the same time maintain environmental quality and function. Some of those ways lie within the province of environmental research–ways to prevent the inevitable waste stream from devastating the air, the water, and the land, for example. Environmental research must focus on understanding natural and human-mediated effects on our natural resources but must also study the relationships between natural resources and economic, human, and cultural resources. If we fail in this task, the entire world, including the United States, will suffer the consequences. Research on how to manage our resources will lead to opportunities for both economic and environmental well-being.
The terms protection, restoration, and management set out directions in which environmental research and action should proceed; these terms should not be taken to imply absolute goals, because in a changing world absolute goals might be elusive, infeasible, or impractical, given other human objectives. Protecting the environment is not necessarily the same as preserving it; the natural world changes on its own, and the human place in the landscape varies over space and time. What is important is to protect the capacity of nature to
provide the ecological services essential to human well-being–such services as assimilation of wastes, production of food, and provision of an aesthetically satisfying context for human interaction. Similarly, restoration of damaged ecosystems does not imply re-creation of pristine conditions that prevailed at some arbitrary time in the past; nor does it mean complete removal of the signs of human intervention into a natural system. It does imply the rebuilding of damaged ecological functions and depleted natural settings so that they regain the ability to deliver ecosystem amenities to human and nonhuman populations. Finally, it will be impossible to reconcile growing populations and expanding demand for natural resources and ecosystem services unless innovative solutions to myriad environmentally related problems can be found. Human aspirations for prosperity can be met, in the long run, only through sustainable use of the natural world. It is essential to find ways to manage our resources to achieve economic prosperity that are in harmony with the environment.
Research along those lines has long been conducted in various government, university, and private-sector laboratories. But the action flowing from the research typically has been fragmented in its application to environmental systems because there has been little recognition that humans were intervening in complex ecosystem processes whose response to human activity would often be surprising, indirect, and delayed and sometimes counterproductive. As that recognition has grown with environmental awareness and a deepening understanding of ecosystem behavior, it has become appropriate to revise how the federal government invests in research. The starting point of such a rethinking is to identify the social purposes that environmental research should enable us to pursue more effectively. Protection, restoration, and management of resources are goals that will be important to the United States for some time. The challenge of creating a relationship between people and the natural world that can be economically and ecologically sustainable demands re-examining the fundamental structures of industrialization–a deep, complex set of issues that can be addressed successfully only on a time scale of decades. The environmental and natural-resource problems that face the world and this nation clearly warrant an investment in research to find practical solutions to such needs as protecting, restoring, and managing our natural resources and to lend coherence to the investment while preserving the variety and creativity that have been essential to American leadership in science and technology.
The committee believes that environmental research that can produce essential data and can inform and support policy must have the characteristics discussed below. These characteristics are necessary, although not sufficient, if research is to lead to improved environmental outcomes. Implementation
of the research direction and approach requires a change in the culture of federal support of the research.
The desirable environmental research program proceeds in two directions–first, addressing issues of protection and restoration, and second, addressing issues of innovation in management of resources. Building a base of knowledge for protection and restoration has been the objective of most existing environmental research. As the scale and scope of the interactions involved in effective management of environmental resources have become clearer, the need to emphasize deliberate learning about how to manage resources in a sustainable way has become apparent as well.
RESEARCH FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND RESTORATION
Basic and applied research on ways to protect the environment and to ensure the continued flow of essential goods and services from the environment must provide a focal point for the nation's environmental R&D program. Examples are general modeling research–research on modeling of processes by which chemicals are transported through, and their ultimate fate determined in, the environment–research to determine patterns and processes of atmospheric and oceanic circulation, studies of the responses of ecosystems to stresses, and investigation of natural processes and patterns of ecological succession and soil erosion.
Concern about global change–including the loss of biological diversity, carbon dioxide accumulation, and stratospheric ozone depletion–fits within the rubric of protection and restoration and can be a unifying theme for the nation's environmental research program.
RESEARCH FOR INNOVATION IN MANAGEMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
The committee believes that although environmental protection and restoration are essential foci for environmental research, they are not sufficient to address the long-term environmental needs of the nation and the world. They deal with present and past human activities but do not look to
a future for which we must seek to ensure sustainable use of our resources that will protect and even enhance environmental quality while improving standards of living and quality of life.
The committee found that substantial conceptual and philosophical barriers complicate the reconciliation of the need for long-term environmental protection with the need for economic development. The most fundamental barrier is the view that there is a difference between sustaining the environment for its own sake and sustaining the environment as a resource for people. Current attempts to find common ground between environmental protection and economic development have generally focused on the concept of sustainability, embodied in such terms as sustainable development and sustainable biosphere . We view these terms to have the same purpose, which we express in the concept of management of our natural resources. Realization of the goal requires new tools and new industries created through research and development that produce the following outcomes:
The creation of wealth and enhancement of standards of living and quality of life in the short term.
Enhancement of, or at least no diminution, in the capability of future generations to continue to improve their quality of life.
Provision of continued availability of nonrenewable resources for future generations. (In addition to extractable and minable materials, nonrenewable resources include species that are nonrenewable in that they cannot be recreated if they become extinct. Nonrenewable resources also include at least some ecosystems that would be extremely difficult to recreate if destroyed or highly degraded.)
Reversibility of negative environmental impacts, if any, of resource use, preferably in the span of one generation.
The current rate of consumption of renewable and nonrenewable resources is not sustainable in the long term. Petroleum reserves will give out, probably in the next century. Serious risks are associated with current and projected magnitudes of waste production globally, including the risk of global warming and various threats to public health. Species are becoming extinct at an unprecedented rate, which will probably increase as habitats continue to degrade. These problems will be exacerbated by the combination of projected population growth and worldwide expectations of increased standards of living, especially in the developing countries. Failure to develop management tools will increase the risk of reduction in quality of life for the next generation and decrease the capacity of future generations to recover from that reduction.
We are not in a position to implement fully the sustainable management of natural resources. We have the beginnings, but considerable research and development are needed. Emerging disciplines, such as industrial ecology and ecological economics, that contain key elements of this approach. Among these elements are the creation of an industrial cycle that mimics biospheric processes via a materially closed system, in which waste materials produced by one segment become inputs for another; internalizing the parameters of our economic models that are now considered externalities, so that production costs will include true environmental costs; and maximizing energy efficiency.
The creation of the new tools needed for sustainable management of natural resources will not be easy, but it will create new opportunities, in that whole new industries will be needed, such as major recycling and remanufacturing industries. And it will reinforce the current drive to continuous improvement and to high-quality products because these are likely to reduce waste in most cases.
Human survival depends on various biological features of the environment. Organisms provide oxygen, food, fuel, and fiber; mediate floods; affect climate; contribute to soil formation; fertilize plants that produce fruits; increase soil fertility; and break down pollutants. These so-called environmental services include more than merely the means for survival; they also improve the quality of human life. The biggest and most difficult environmental problems include alterations of ecosystems (including extermination of species) and alterations of habitats, sometimes on a global scale. As a result of such alterations, environmental services can be interfered with or interrupted–also sometimes on a global scale. As human population and activity increase, environmental services will be increasingly altered. Scientific understanding is increasing, but much more environmental research is needed.
To understand the nature of environmental services and their susceptibility to human activities, we must describe, count, and measure components of the environment that can be inventoried; understand the transfer of materials and energy from one component to another; and learn the rules by which components interact–in other words, how the systems work. That research approach presents major challenges. The systems are inherently complex, their components are diverse, and the threats to them exist across political boundaries and can operate at large scales. The understanding needed to ensure a sustained flow of environmental services requires coordination of environmental research at all levels, especially in the federal government.
The R&D programs to be implemented will make the most effective contribution to a coordinated program if they are planned and implemented with the following characteristics in mind.
CROSSING DISCIPLINES AND SCALES
It is important to maintain strength in disciplinary studies, but many environmental issues cross the boundaries of traditional scientific disciplines, including biological, physical, and social sciences. In addition, most environmental processes operate over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Solutions to most environmental problems depend on bringing together several traditional disciplines and evaluating the problems on several space and time scales.
Government agencies carry out specifically mandated missions that direct their environmental research to mission-oriented goals. It is important that environmental research programs be designed and coordinated in ways that will permit crossing mission boundaries and make the products of the research useful for increasing knowledge about environmental problems in general.
UTILITY FOR DECISION-MAKING AND POLICY FORMATION
Knowledge gained from research can improve public understanding of environmental issues, inform decision-making, and assist in making policy decisions. There must be an organized system that sets priorities for research in a consultative process and that provides for communication of new information to the decision-makers and policy-setters.
There is no simple way to anticipate the most effective research approach to many environmental problems, so the nation's environmental research
program must facilitate creative and diverse scientific approaches to environmental protection and restoration problems.
All relevant disciplines must be brought to bear in a coordinated approach to actual environmental problems. The nation must explore alternative funding mechanisms for environmental research, including novel ways of funding existing organizations and initiating new centers and other structures to address environmental issues in a multidisciplinary manner.
CONSISTENCY OF FUNDING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH
Many topics in environmental protection, restoration, and innovation require research over long periods. Funding patterns must be designed to provide stable funding for long-term studies on specific problems and for measuring the status and trends of natural resources.
ADEQUACY OF FUNDING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH
Agencies must have the wherewithal to support the full range of components of a coordinated environmental research program, including research, training, and infrastructure.
A BALANCE BETWEEN INTRAMURAL AND EXTRAMURAL RESEARCH
One of the strengths of science in our nation is that each sponsor of research can choose to support research in the way that appears most advantageous. That ensures that research will be done in diverse settings by the full range of human talent and temperament and that in most cases the diverse interests will be represented in the choice of research to be done.
Historically, much of the talent in environmental research has resided outside the formal structure of the federal agencies; this is especially true in basic research in the biological and social sciences and in engineering research and applications. However, the American Association for the Advancement of Science report on funding for environmental research reveals that, compared
to other areas of federally supported research, environmental research funding overall is directed more toward inhouse federal-agency funding than to universities and not-for-profit research institutions. ''Much of the government's environmental expertise is either in-house or in non-academic institutions. Extrapolations from data on R&D performers suggest that about one third of federally-funded environmental R&D is conducted in-house in government laboratories. This compares to about one fourth for other nondefense R&D programs" (Gramp et al., 1992, p. 5). The AAAS report explains that many of the federal agencies that fund environmental research emphasize inhouse research for management purposes (e.g., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA; the Department of the Interior, DOI; the Agricultural Research Service, and the Forest Service) or regulation and monitoring (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA). The share of federally funded environmental research performed in academic institutions is small compared with other types of research performed in academic institutions.
If we are to invigorate federally sponsored environmental research, we must become more creative and long-sighted and must direct research to the understanding of basic environmental processes and to restoration and maintenance of environmental functions. This focus requires the open, interactive research environments characteristic of universities and research institutions, and it requires the quality controls inherent in merit review.
The opportunity to do environmental research must be made available to the best minds. This is not always the case today. Environmental research in the United States will improve only marginally if we simply reshuffle pieces of inhouse research programs or agencies without strengthening the extramural programs that bring flexibility to the use of human talents for particular research needs. It should also be evident that extramural academic research is pivotal in training new researchers.
The importance of extramural research is illustrated by the presence of myriad environmental databases in industry and academe. Not only must extramural research programs be strengthened; the information generated by them must be integrated into the federal consciousness via federal support for information networks throughout environmental science, as is now the case with research data collected by such federally controlled devices as satellites.
In agencies where both intramural and extramural research are performed, the natural tendency toward competition between the two types of funding should be reduced by providing structural impediments to budget erosion on one side or the other. The rationales and roles of the two types of research funding must be delineated.
INVESTIGATOR-INITIATED, PEER-REVIEWED RESEARCH
Investigator-initiated, peer-reviewed research is already the hallmark of the National Science Foundation (NSF). To stimulate new ideas and to increase the vitality of environmental research throughout the federal government, this approach must be encouraged in appropriate parts of environmental research programs in all agencies.
Many environmental problems are international in nature and scope. The federal environmental research program must lead and collaborate in selected international research activities.
EFFICIENCY AND ECONOMY
Both human and financial resources are limited, so the federal environmental research program must set priorities and be organized and operated economically and efficiently. That requires the use of oversight, coordination, and evaluation techniques that seek to eliminate redundancy, avoid waste, and use personnel, facilities, and systems to the best advantage.
COMBINATION OF GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE-SECTOR ACTIVITIES
The total needs of a national environmental research program are too large for the federal agencies alone, so the issues must be addressed by a combination of government and nongovernment organizations. Nongovernment organizations should be involved as partners and advise in setting priorities and in providing constructive criticism for government programs, as well as being active performers of research themselves as appropriate.
The committee recognizes the constraints that might make it difficult to institute the research process described above. Solutions to environmental problems are needed now, and working toward solutions will require investment of funds at a time when the nation faces severe economic problems. Furthermore, the steps described above require changes in a federal organizational structure that is already in place and might be politically difficult to alter.
The research and policy-informing system that we believe essential will require national-level leadership and coordination, a national environmental research plan, provision for environmental data collection and distribution, and means of assessing the state of the environment and monitoring trends. Such characteristics, fundamental for environmental research, are necessarily secondary considerations in federal departments, such as the Department of Energy (DOE), DOI, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
NATIONAL-LEVEL LEADERSHIP AND COORDINATION
The essential foundation of a successful environmental research program is leadership at the highest level of government to ensure attention to important environmental issues at all levels of government. The committee believes that it would be highly desirable to establish a National Environmental Council (NEC) for this purpose. The primary responsibility of the NEC would be to ensure that a national environmental research plan is developed and adhered to and that the federal agencies consistently follow a coordinated approach to implementing the plan.
Such a council would be effective if it included
A focus on environmental matters, which are singled out for high-level attention, in a way parallel to that of the Space Council or the National Security Council.
Participation by cabinet officers, so that agreements to coordinate carry the authority of the senior official of each agency.
Continuing visibility of environmental questions across agencies. The authority of cabinet officers can initiate coordination, but maintaining coordination requires continuous monitoring to ensure that momentum is maintained. The influence conferred by a cabinet-level council provides the necessary platform for keeping implementation on track.
Coordination of efforts among agencies already occurs routinely in the government, and it is important to understand how the existing modes need to be changed. Environmental research faces large challenges: much environmental research is inherently of a large scale, and that forces its practitioners to attend to the complexities of building and maintaining substantial organizations to collect and analyze large quantities of data; environmental research crosses functional boundaries, as when economic data are used to estimate and project the volume of hazardous waste generated in an area, and this
strains disciplinary and organizational loyalties; and the turbulence of budgets when there are large fiscal strains in the federal government can force cuts in some budgets in a coordinated program while others continue and so disrupt the collection and analysis of data obtained from diverse programs. If those challenges are not explicitly addressed by leadership at the top, they will undermine collaborative efforts among agencies.
About 20 federal agencies have major responsibilities related to the environment. In all instances (except for EPA), concern for the environment is not the primary role of the agency conducting the environmental research and influencing policy. For example, DOE supports much environmental research, but the department's primary responsibility is energy, rather than environment. The roles and responsibilities of the involved agencies should be explicitly described in the national environmental plan described below and managed and implemented by the NEC.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy is a highly placed office whose specific mission is to coordinate federal research. It performs its function in some cases by organizing committees under the Federal Coordinating Council on Science, Engineering, and Technology and in others by convening agency representatives to discuss coordination needs. Presidential directives can call for the formation of high-level coordinating bodies, such as the Space Council, or assign responsibilities among agencies; for example, a directive established USDA as the federal lead agency for nutrition and agricultural research. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) can issue circulars that direct cooperation among agencies to avoid duplication of effort and overlap in functions; for example, OMB Circular 16 directs a number of agencies to work with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to collect and manage spatial data. In many instances, no special intervention is required for coordination to occur-agencies recognize a need for coordination and bring it into being. All those mechanisms for coordination might come into play in a plan to rationalize the organization of federal environmental research. The committee believes, nonetheless, that a large-scale national program in environmental research requires high-level leadership to ensure that coordination will be established and will persist long enough to begin to return benefits in the form of more-effective and less-expensive environmental policy.
PLANNING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH
A basic element of our recommendations is the need for a national environmental research plan developed and administered by the NEC. No
such plan exists, but one must be formulated if the nation is to marshal its resources to identify and address environmental issues. Without a comprehensive plan, the efforts of individual agencies are typically uncoordinated, except when a specific problem, such as global change, receives enough attention to stimulate an effort to coordinate relevant programs. The result is a federal research effort that is fragmented in perspective and leads to partial solutions that sometimes deepen conflict or fail to solve problems, because they are only partially understood. Reliance on ad hoc arrangements has been successful in some instances but generally is not conducive to the organized, long-term studies that are often required to attack environmental problems and track the changes brought about by efforts to remedy them. A national strategy would provide a framework within which individual agency programs would create knowledge that would serve immediate mission needs while building a stock of information for the solution of future problems.
Such a plan must become the first priority of the NEC. Given the rapid changes in the environment and our understanding of it, we recommend that the plan be updated every 2 years and revised comprehensively every 5 years.
LINKAGE OF ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND POLICY
Good environmental policy formation requires, first, accurate, sound, and timely scientific information and analysis; second, pathways for the scientific assessments to reach decision-makers; and third, flexible policies and alert implementing agencies able to respond to new information so that decisions made under uncertainty can be revised in light of experience. A mechanism should exist that can quickly bring to the policy process the best available information on environmental status, up-to-date understanding about environmental processes and human factors, and accurate analyses of the implications of this knowledge for environmental issues and policy decisions. To be effective, the input should be balanced and as free of bias as possible. Misinformation and poor or biased analyses can easily lead to faulty or misguided policies.
No dedicated mechanism exists on a large-enough scale for analyzing and assessing the environmental issues currently facing the nation and the world. It could be created by setting up a new, independent agency expressly to ensure the best scientific input and insulation from the influence of partisan political forces. The advisory process of the National Research Council is one potential model for such an agency. Yet, as shown in Chapter 2, the record of decision-making in scientifically complex fields is mixed. A complete solution to this problem is unlikely to be available through structural
rearrangements alone. Being alert to the need for science and bringing science into the policy process is a task that cannot simply be assigned to a person or organization; it must be rooted in a sense of leadership–and thus will depend on the particular persons in positions of leadership.
A new center or enhanced existing institution would provide a neutral arena for bringing together scientists with those who have responsibility for making decisions about environmental policy. It would focus primarily on the most important environmental policies at the national level. Because environmental problems combine scientific uncertainties, substantial economic consequences, and disputes regarding human values, the connection between environmental science and environmental policy is too important to be left to the current ad hoc arrangements. There should be a national center or institution that can contribute to and be evaluated by both the public and private sectors.
An important characteristic of the policy center is that it would have access to and provide recommendations to the political decision-making processes at the federal level and would also make its products available at the state and local levels to businesses, nonprofit institutions, other nongovernment organizations, and citizens. All are involved in fashioning and implementing solutions to environmental problems. In Chapter 5, we recommend a means for ensuring that the products of scientific analysis of environmental issues are made available to decision-makers.
ORGANIZING ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION AND MAKING IT AVAILABLE
Environmental databases are large and will continue to expand in number and complexity. The utility of the data, however, is often low, because of the sheer size of a database, because documentation is not sufficient for the data to be interpreted with confidence, and because mechanical accessibility and practical interpretation are not available to potential users. The nation needs an environmental information clearinghouse that will catalog environmental data sets with their requisite documentation. It is important to create a National Environmental Data and Information System (NEDIS). Current electronic systems for managing information might make it sensible to perform these functions by establishing a systematic gateway to data and information without creating a library in the traditional sense of a building that serves as a data repository.
There are already several efforts to coordinate large environmental data sets at the national level, and new efforts could build on existing systems in, for example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NOAA,
EPA, and DOI. For example, the Federal Geographic Data Committee, led by USGS, focuses on spatial data. It has proposed a National Geographic Data System that would promulgate uniform data-transfer standards. Other cooperative efforts to manage databases are the nine-agency group led by NOAA; the Interagency Working Group on Data Management for Global Change; the Global Change Information Center, which is designed primarily to transfer data to developing countries; the NSF Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program, which is based on a specific research program; and the planned collection and organization of data sets as part of the EPA Environmental Monitoring and Analysis Program. Despite those and other cooperative efforts, many environmental data sets are still dispersed and only unevenly available or useful. A coordinated national program should be undertaken.
An important responsibility of NEDIS will be to develop institutional connections with databases in other disciplines that are relevant to understanding environmental issues in and outside the federal government. In particular, the combination of environmental, social, and economic data is important to the responsibilities of many agencies. Furthermore, results of all environmental research in the federal agencies should be included in this library of information. It is inefficient for each agency to develop information-management systems independently. NEDIS would save money by eliminating unnecessary duplication of effort while facilitating the synthesis and interpretation of data for use by a wide variety of audiences.
We do not underestimate the difficulty of accomplishing what we believe is desirable. There are so many information sources and they exist in so many different forms that collecting them and making them useful is an enormous task. A large-scale study might be necessary to find ways to collect the data in an appropriate form for use in determining environmental status and trends and to assess comprehensively what the data mean and what options for action can be inferred from them. The need is especially great with regard to information on environmental biology. The first steps have already been taken to collect and use data on physical environmental measures, in particular for the global-change program. The problems encountered by the interagency group on global-change data in coping with the vast amount of data underscore the complexity of data collection and management for environmental data and the need for continuing effort to optimize systems (NRC, 1991).
CONTINUING EVALUATION OF THE NATION'S AND WORLD'S ENVIRONMENTAL STATUS
Environmental status and trends data are collected by virtually all federal agencies, but there is no comprehensive plan for deciding which data are most important and what organization should collect them. The data themselves are scattered across the federal bureaucracy, and the data-collection program in each agency is designed to meet the individual needs of that agency without sufficient regard for collaboration with other agencies and the broad national and international scientific community.
Specific programs must be developed to integrate current status and trends measurements made by a wide variety of government and nongovernment organizations at all levels and to make them broadly available. These include the combination of the NSF LTER program and the USDA experimentation data networks, integration of regional and local networks, and other possibilities.
The federal agencies, in concert with the national and international scientific community, need to establish a nationwide and worldwide program to measure and describe quantitatively the current status of environmental conditions, to describe the trends of these conditions, and to assess threats to environmental resources and processes. In addition, U.S. data-collection capabilities, such as those of earth-orbiting satellites, should continue to contribute to global data collection for international organizations. It is important to create a reliable portrait of environmental status and trends so that the complex and often delayed interactions between humans and the rest of the natural world can be perceived in an accurate and timely way. It is essential that the agencies coordinate their efforts to ensure that collection and dissemination of information about conditions and trends are reflected in their operating procedures and that their research programs contribute to improving the understanding of the processes that are driving the trends. The coordination should ensure consistency in the various status and trend databases.
The program would issue an annual report of its activities and a summary of the status of the nation's environmental conditions. That report should build on the models established in the annual reports of the Council on Environmental Quality (which is now to be abolished) and should reflect and take advantage of advances in information management. A comprehensive and appropriate National Biological Survey, housed in the Department of the Interior, is an important component of this effort. The programs of the Smithsonian Institution, a federal-private hybrid organization, would play a role in providing status and trends data.
ROLE OF NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
The solutions to many environmental problems will ultimately arise from basic research on the structure and function of environmental systems. NSF provides the primary support for such fundamental research. It manages a wide-ranging program of basic environmental research and has a variety of funding mechanisms ranging from support of individual scientists to support of groups and centers, such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the LTER program. It supports training, instrumentation, and specialized facilities. NSF-supported research does not replace the mission-oriented research programs of the various federal agencies. Rather, they complement one another. NSF is invaluable in a comprehensive environmental program, and a substantial increase in funds available to NSF for the support of environmental research and development is highly desirable and should be expedited.
ROLE OF SECTOR AND MISSION AGENCIES
We believe that such agencies as USDA, DOI, and EPA can profitably be more involved in environmental research than they are now, both in basic research through their competitive grants programs and in their mission-related efforts, all of it to be coordinated through the national plan. A larger component of investigator-initiated, peer-reviewed research in each of those agencies is strongly recommended.
ROLE OF FEDERAL LABORATORIES
Large networks of federal environmental research-performing laboratories exist under the management of EPA, DOI, NOAA, USDA, and other agencies. Coordination of effort among them is desirable to increase the effectiveness of their research.
The national laboratories supported by DOE have skilled personnel and data-handling and other capabilities that make them appropriate to play a major role in environmental research. Several bills introduced in Congress have proposed that these laboratories be used to focus on environmental technologies and thereby to develop products that would contribute to the solution of national and international environmental problems and to the U.S. competitive position in this field.
It would be highly desirable to bring the necessary new talent into the federal laboratories and to find appropriate ways to use the capabilities of the laboratories in a complete environmental R&D program. It would also be highly desirable to seek ways to coordinate the various laboratories supported by many departments as part of a cooperative program of environmental research.
PUBLIC-SECTOR AND PRIVATE-SECTOR COLLABORATION
The actions required to sustain environmental systems–protection, restoration, and management–will be conducted to a large extent by the federal government but also by many other organizations and constituencies. For example, efforts to protect natural resources will occur on federal lands and under federal policies and regulations. But they will also occur on private land and under the jurisdiction of states and local governments. Similarly, restoration and management policies will be implemented on global to local scales. Although environmental research in the public and private sectors has some different objectives, there are many common problems and issues. Increased communication and collaboration between the public and private sectors both in the performance of research and in discussions of policy formation are highly desirable.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
To ensure that the public can understand the most important environmental issues and to ensure that there will be strong future generations of scientists, the federal environmental research program must support broad environmental education and training programs for the public. Programs sponsored by EPA and others have taken a few steps toward this end, but these must be multiplied.
Training opportunities for scientists must be provided by programs supported not only by NSF, but by all the agencies involved in environmental research. Innovative programs are required to address the need for persons able to deal with the environmental issues that require multidisciplinary approaches.
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION ON RESEARCH AND POLICY
It is essential that the U.S. research program be coordinated and integrated with international programs. Only in this way can overarching environmental problems be solved. The Carnegie Commission report (Carnegie, 1992b) provides a plan for effecting this critical objective.
The program of environmental research and the translation of information into environmental policy need to be evaluated regularly to ensure that the goals of protection, restoration, and management are being realized and that the program itself continues to contribute to and be supported by the public. The committee has identified above the desirable characteristics of a sound program of environmental research. Some of the salient signs of success are discussed here, to make explicit the benefits that we believe are attainable and that evaluation and oversight bodies should look for.
Among the hallmarks of national leadership three are of particular importance: readiness to champion policy reforms when the scientific consensus has shifted in favor of new understandings; taking a leading role on behalf of the United States in international organizations and on global environmental issues; and most important, early, effective, and persistent use of scientific information in policy arenas characterized by uncertainty and political risk. As long as voters continue to see environmental quality and its protection as important government responsibilities, those virtues should confer benefits on those who lead.
Research will function effectively across disciplinary lines, probing on different spatial, temporal, and functional scales. As a result, fundamental understanding of environmental processes will increase steadily and enable the development of more effective technologies, practices, and policies for governing people's use of the natural world and its resources.
Research will be pluralistic: a variety of approaches will be pursued on most important environmental questions, and that will enable progress to come through different routes.
Support of research will be flexible and creative to take advantage of different ways of funding existing institutions and creating new organizational forms to foster multidisciplinary creativity. In particular, there will be a vigorous segment of research in which work is initiated by individual scientists, whose ideas are judged through peer review.
An infrastructural support system will provide for research facilities, data-management facilities, and professional training, as now exist for biomedical and other research with high social priority. Research facilities will be designed to allow efficient sharing of equipment. Support of environmental biological databases will have national priority, as do atmospheric databases today.
The role of universities and free-standing research institutions, such as field stations and museums, in environmental research and policy will be expanded and will be less subject to fluctuations in support. Academicians will be more conversant with industrial and public-policy concerns, and there will be a greater match between training and societal needs. The public will become more aware of the value of basic environmental research and monitoring outside the federal government.
State-supported environmental research will be integrated into policy-setting through participation in the status and trends network and through the exchange of ideas and personnel with universities and federal agencies.
At all levels of education, environmental literacy will be encouraged as an interdisciplinary element of courses of study. Such literacy is as important in the education of accountants, who must grasp the financial value of pollution-control expenditures, as in the education of workers in heating and air conditioning, who are responsible for controlling emissions of chlorofluorocarbon gases. Most important, students whose votes will be counted in the elections of the twenty-first century must profit from the knowledge acquired through environmental research, so that they can participate knowledgeably in dealing with the difficult issues ahead. Today environmentalism–often based on a superficial grasp of the underlying science, value premises, or historical background–is fashionable. But industrial societies seeking to find economic pathways that can be sustainable in the long term must develop the capacity to make hard choices while nurturing democratic values; education is of fundamental importance in that respect, as is the research that informs education.
Environmental research in the universities will be organized to train scientists, engineers, and social scientists for industry and commerce, nongovernment organizations, and the research enterprise itself. A successful program of national research will keep American research universities and professional schools among the world's leaders in environmental science and scholarship.
Environmental studies by government and by the private sector will be synergistic and complementary, enlarging the store of knowledge in a cost-effective way. In pollution prevention in manufacturing firms, for example, private-sector research naturally complements public policy. As
business does work that it is suited to carry out–protecting proprietary information in the course of learning how to reduce or eliminate pollution in production processes–so government should pursue its comparative advantage, for example, through studies aimed at lowering the burdens of regulatory compliance while continuing present levels of regulatory protection. As government assembles environmental data in forms usable by citizen groups, so environmental organizations should experiment with ways to improve citizens' understanding of the complexities of risk analysis and enrich concerned citizens' grasp of the varied contexts in which risks can be presented.
Environmental research will contribute to economic prosperity in four ways. First, in accounting terms, technological advances in pollution control, environmental management, and spinoffs from environmental research will increase business opportunities for American industry in domestic and international markets. Second, in qualitative terms, improved policies, management methods, and voluntary changes in behavior will drive down the cost of environmentally sound outcomes and raise the quality of the environment for a given level of expenditure. Third, long-term changes in cultural values, informed and stimulated by environmental research, could shift the definition of prosperity away from material consumption and toward other forms of human fulfillment that might be more sustainable. Fourth, environmental research will save the raw materials and ecosystem services on which humankind depends.