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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Science Council STAR Conference, Dallas, Texas

05/28/2003
Remarks for Governor Christine Todd Whitman
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
at the
Science Council STAR Conference
Dallas, Texas

May 28, 2003


Thank you Richard (Greene) for that introduction.

From the food we eat, to the water we drink, to the air we breathe, our work at EPA reaches almost every aspect of American life. Though our mission is complex, our goal is simple B to make our air cleaner, water purer, and land better protected. There is no doubt that success in reaching that goal depends largely on a foundation of sound science.

We rely on science to help us understand environmental problems and the risks they pose to our health and quality of life. We rely on science to provide solutions to those problems and analyses of which solution will work best. We rely on science to determine the effectiveness of existing programs and policies. When you rely on something that heavily, you better make sure that the foundation is strong.

Fortunately, that has always been the case with science at EPA.

As Administrator, I have looked for ways to strengthen this vital program and increase the role of science in our decision-making processes. An important part of that effort is our work to improve scientific support to the regions and enhance the use of science in regional decisions. After all, it is EPA's regional offices that are on the front lines of implementing the Agency = s programs, and we want to ensure that you have the best tools and information available.

Over the past year, Dr. Paul Gilman, my science advisor and the AA for ORD, has been meeting with regional managers and scientists to discuss regional science needs, which has helped point us in the right direction as we have worked on a number of efforts to enhance regional science capabilities.

Those efforts range from initiating a new Regional Research Partnership Program to allow regional scientists to conduct research in ORD laboratories, to developing Biosketch, an on-line searchable directory of ORD scientists that details their areas of expertise.

We have also doubled the budget for our Regional Applied Research effort, which funds small, quick turnaround research projects selected by the region based on their potential to address pressing local environmental problems.

Indeed, our focus on supporting and improving scientific research is not only evident in our work with the regions, but across the agency as a whole. Scientific research is one of our most powerful tools for understanding our environment and the methods we can use to improve it.

An important part of our research work is EPA's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) partnership program, which supports research outside of the Agency by providing competitive grants to scientists in the academic and private sectors.

Recently, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report praising the STAR program for filling an important niche by supporting research that is not conducted or funded by other agencies. The report also pointed out that in spite of being a young program, STAR research results are already improving the scientific foundation of our decision making.

Since the program began in 1995, nearly 800 grants have been awarded for a total of over 700 million dollars. Right here in Region 6, over the past five years, EPA has awarded more than 52 million dollars in grants.

This seminar is the second in a series of STAR Environmental Research Seminars designed to focus on regional research efforts. During the first seminar held in Region 1 last November, one of the issues that was raised was the lack of a central source of information for the research and scientific work being conducted across the Agency.

Today, I= m pleased to announce a new Regional Science Portal that will provide regional scientists with direct access to information about analytical methods, science activities that are underway, and products generated by Agency scientists and STAR grantees, such as those here today.

Communication between our scientists is crucial to developing and applying the best available information to the environmental challenges we face, and this new Regional Science Portal is a big step in the right direction.

I am confident this second seminar will prove just as successful as the first. We have an exciting panel of presentations today, and a variety of issues represented across the group of 12 projects that will be discussed. Each of these projects, whether the focus is air quality or drinking water, will help provide the necessary information to guide environmental policy decisions here in Region 6.

As a result of the work of these scientists, the people of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Arkansas, will reap the benefits of a cleaner and healthier environment.

To underscore this Administration's commitment to sound science and the STAR program, the President requested an additional $5 million in his FY > 04 budget to support the STAR program and ensure that valuable research work such as we have here today is continued.

Of course, our work to strengthen the use of science in the regions reflects a similar goal I have for the Agency as a whole. That is why when I arrived at EPA, I commissioned a task force to help identify ways we could improve the use of science. Over the past two years, we have implemented a number of their recommendations, and I would like to share with you three key areas where we have seen significant improvement and progress.

First, we have worked to improve the resources that determine the quality of EPA's science. In this area, our most important resource is our scientists. EPA attracts some of the best and brightest minds in America. In order to ensure that we continue to do so, we have developed a proposal to make EPA research salaries and positions more competitive with the private sector.

In addition, EPA also supports a strong Post Doctoral program which helps produce future leaders in the science and engineering fields. Our postdoctoral scientists have made important research contributions, such as developing a method to identify Hepatitis E in watersheds and developing a population model to predict children=s exposure to certain pesticides used in the home and garden. As a result of this program=s success, EPA has requested an additional 20 postdoctoral positions in the FY 04 budget.

However, it is not enough to just recruit great scientists, we must also ensure that their work is reflected in our policy and regulations. With that in mind, the number of laboratory engineers and scientists engaged in providing scientific input to our regulations has doubled in three years B from 150 in 2000 to over 300 today.

By not only increasing the number of scientists, but their role as well, we are holding our policy to the same high standards of quality and excellence that we expect from our science.

Just as important as strengthening the quality of our science within the Agency is our increased effort to reach out in partnership to outside groups in support of our overall environmental mission.

As an Agency we need to be aware of the important scientific work that is being conducted by outside parties, and we must be active in seeking ways to partner in those efforts. For example, EPA has joined with the American Chemistry Council to coordinate our research as we work to understand the effects of chemicals on the development of infant's and children's immune systems.

Finally, an area where we saw one of the greatest needs for improvement is that of coordination and communication. So I asked Paul Gilman, to oversee this effort. Under his leadership, the application and use of our science has not only improved, it has become much more uniform across the Agency.

From EPA's Science Policy Council which helps direct the use of scientific and technical information in policy decisions to developing Information Quality Guidelines that set high standards for the scientific information EPA releases, there is a much clearer understanding today of how we use our science and what we expect from it.

This is an understanding that we want to ensure is communicated and coordinated across the entire agency, with our regional offices, our partners, and the American public.

Throughout May, in commemoration of Science Month, I have been traveling all around the country visiting many of our EPA regional labs to see first hand the work in which our scientists are engaged and to highlight the importance of science to our work as an Agency.

After visiting these labs, touring the EPA Science Forum earlier this month, and participating in this seminar today, I am confident that as we stride forward to meet our environmental goals, we are doing so with science as our guide.

As we work on today=s most pressing environmental problems, we have to be sure we are using sound scientific approaches. That's the only way to make sure our efforts are both successful and have the confidence of the American people. Nothing would undermine our credibility faster than letting political science replace strong science.

As all of you know, the environmental challenges we face today are not as clear cut as they were thirty years ago. If we are to indeed foster a healthier environment and a greater quality of life then we must continue to rely on the tool that has gotten us this far B science.

Thank you.