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EPA: Research On Contaminated Sites Scaled Back

by Cheryl Hogue
April 22, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 16

Credit: Environmental Protection Agency
A table shows that EPA research is slashed on health, environmental effects of polluted sites.
Credit: Environmental Protection Agency

The President is asking for nearly $12 million less for the Environmental Protection Agency’s science and technology efforts in fiscal 2014 than Congress provided in fiscal 2012. The President is seeking almost $784 million; EPA’s 2012 appropriation was $796 million.

The agency’s science efforts on sustainable communities, which include research into human health and environmental effects from polluted sites, would take the biggest hit. The Administration’s request slashes this program by more than $26 million, taking it from $174 million in 2012 down to $147 million in 2014. EPA says this cut would delay ongoing research on the effects of pollution on public health, children, and minority populations; shrink its study of the impacts on children of exposure to cleaning materials in schools; and reduce research on goods and services that ecosystems provide.

EPA would lose two popular fellowship programs as part of a government-wide consolidation of science education programs. This action would eliminate more than $16 million from EPA’s budget for its Science to Achieve Results fellowships for master’s and doctoral candidates and Greater Research Opportunities fellowships for undergraduates.

Under the President’s request, funding for chemical safety and sustainability research at EPA will decline slightly, from $137 million in 2012 to $135 million in 2014. The budget proposal also refocuses this research program. The agency plans to pour an additional $4 million into developing inherently safer processes and products that reduce or eliminate harm to human health or the environment associated with the manufacture, use, and disposal of chemicals while maximizing the economic benefit of those substances. This work, the agency says, is aimed in part at developing tools for sustainable molecular design and life-cycle analysis.

To counter the increase for inherently safer process and product development, EPA would pare research on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, nanomaterials, and the use of computational toxicology to inform chemical regulatory efforts.

EPA also plans to expand its research related to hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a technique to extract natural gas and oil from shale. The agency would spend nearly $4 million to examine the potential impact of fracking on air quality and an additional $4 million to study how fracking operations affect aquatic ecosystems. These efforts would be done as part of an interagency research effort with the Departments of Energy and of the Interior. This work is separate from an EPA study, expected to be finished in late 2014, on whether fracking adversely affects drinking water supplies.

In another change proposed by the President, the agency plans to cut $1 million from its science and technology budget in part by eliminating the agency’s evaluation of technologies to control emissions of mercury from coal-fired power plants. Under the budget proposal, EPA will fold its work on mercury into another program that studies a suite of pollutants emitted from coal-burning facilities.


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