A study of the federal Environmental Protection Agency concludes the EPA needs to change its priorities and focus more on preventing pollution than on trying to clean it up, The Boston Globe reported Monday.
The report, scheduled to be released later this week in Washington, has concluded the EPA needs a fundamental change in perspective to better recognize the long-term effect of pollutants, the Globe said.The study by more than 40 scientists also calls for the creation of an environmental research institute organized along the lines of the Department of Energy's national laboratories, and recommends that the EPA's director of research no longer be a political appointment.
The study was commissioned one year ago last April by EPA's chief administrator, Lee Thomas, and was directed by Alvin Alm, a former top EPA official who is president of Alliance Technologies in Bedford, Mass.
"We really don't know how environmental changes" - global warming, in particular - "are affecting natural systems," Alm told the newspaper. "There are really dire consequences. We're worrying about small problems now compared with the potential impact of these changes."
Specific recommendations in the report include:
- An extensive effort to monitor the whole environment so that changes may be noticed and environmental problems anticipated at the earliest possible opportunity.
- An emphasis on studying actual exposures of humans to pollutants, rather than the current practice of basing most standards and decisions on hypothetical models and animal studies.
- Expanded testing of human blood and tissue for pollutants and renewed efforts to study the frequency and distribution of environmentally related illnesses in the human population.
- Major increases in EPA research expenditures and in grants to university-based scientists and engineers.
Alm said a key recommendation is that to make the position of assistant administrator of EPA for research and development a civil service position. No occupant of the job, which has been held by political appointees since EPA's inception in 1970, has served more than three years.
"You just can't develop a research strategy like that," Alm said. "You just go back and forth, bank and forth, all over the place.
The scientists preparing the report also said that while it is understandable that long-term research would suffer in the face of projects with more immediate public and political interest.
"There are more and more environmental problems where the solution cannot be regulation at the end of the pipeline" in which wastes are produced, said Alm, the former No. 2 EPA official under administrator William D. Ruckelshaus.
He noted that while emissions controls on automobiles have successfully reduced the pollution given off by each car, the continued growth in the number of cars and number of miles driven means too much exhaust still is being pumped into the air.
Dr. Ellen Silbergeld of the Environmental Defense Fund, a citizens' advocacy group, said she was highly supportive of the overall report but questioned the recommendation for creating an environmental research institute.