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Chapter 4

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Science and Technology-
Moving Us Toward a Sustainable Future

"I would like to state in the strongest possible terms that the Clinton Administration is committed to moving our nation forward on the path towards sustainable development. We are especially proud of the progress our country has made in the past generation in cleaning up our natural environment. We strongly support long-term environmental research, energy research and development, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, ecosystem management, and pollution prevention, to name just a few important areas."

--Vice President Al Gore

Advances in environmental science and technology hold tremendous promise 
for creation of a sustainable future in which environmental health, 
economic prosperity, and quality of life are mutually reinforcing. In 
the words of the  President's Council on Sustainable 

    "A sustainable United States will have a growing economy that provides equitable opportunities for satisfying livelihoods and a safe, healthy, high quality of life for current and future generations.Our nation will protect its environment, its natural resource base, and the functions and viability of natural systems on which all life depends."

Progress towards sustainability requires us to confront a variety of local, regional, and global environmental challenges, such as maintaining biological diversity, safeguarding water resources, improving air quality, reducing exposure to toxic substances, limiting the impacts of natural hazards (such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and forest fires), reversing stratospheric ozone depletion, and understanding, mitigating, and adapting to climate change.
Confronting these issues effectively demands a new approach to environmental science and technology. Continued strong support across the broad spectrum of research is required but not sufficient. We need to apply science and technology to the active pursuit of sustainability, to looking ahead and changing course before environmental problems arise, rather than simply reacting to problems after they occur. Environmental clean-up and remediation certainly remain a significant challenge, and it is clear that an aggressive effort in developing, demonstrating and evaluating innovative technologies is needed for cost-effective identification, prioritization, monitoring, and clean-up. But the larger message is that we cannot afford to repeat the short-sighted actions of the past. We can best achieve sustainability through the assessment, anticipation, and avoidance of the negative consequences of environmental change.
The process of assessment provides the underpinning for the application of science and technology to the informed decision making upon which sustainability depends. Critical and comprehensive review by scientists of the state of scientific understanding of environmental issues, and the synthesis and communica tion of the results to decisionmakers, is valuable for research and policy purposes alike. Assessment can advance science by organizing information, bridging barriers between disciplines, identifying gaps in knowledge, and pointing to new research directions. It advances policy by defining the knowledge base for decision making by laying out the known (with a degree of certainty) and the unknowns in the science. This process has successfully informed international policy discussions on major global-scale environmental problems, including ozone depletion, climate change, and loss of biodiversity. It has proven equally effective in bringing science to bear on national, regional, and even local issues. In the past, policy decisions have often been decoupled from science; strengthening this connection is among the most fundamental needs in achieving a sustainable future.
Over the past decade, dramatic improvements in observational, computational, and communications technologies have enabled the scientific community to undertake a broad range of interdisciplinary investigations that are improving our ability to anticipate environmental issues. We have made much progress in understanding basic earth system mechanisms, such as the cycling of carbon through the oceans, land, and atmosphere. Satellite-based measurements have given us new information on the status and trends of a wide variety of environmental attributes, from ozone in the stratosphere to forests in the Pacific Northwest. New land-based monitoring technologies have provided us with accurate records of the condition of our air, forests, agricultural lands, and water. Accurate long-term measurements are a necessity for accurate assessments and for improving the quality of environmental modeling. Such modeling, which uses high-performance computers to simulate the natural world, is an increasingly powerful tool. Using models that incorporate our understanding of biological, chemical, and physical mechanisms, we can conduct "environmental experiments" and explore the range of outcomes associated with different policy options, thus helping to anticipate and avoid environmental problems.
Creating the knowledge and technologies that can help us avoid environmental problems and their consequences is one of the greatest challenges facing our research enterprise. Human actions have long-term effects: the stratospheric ozone hole won't disappear for 50 years after the phase-out of ozone-depleting chemicals, and the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use will persist for centuries, even if we cap emissions today. These negative effects were not apparent when the technologies that cause them were introduced. A robust and comprehensive program of environmental research and development can help us prevent the creation of successive generations of such technologically induced problems and avoid considerable costs. To take just one example, the price of cleaning up abandoned hazardous waste sites and Federal facilities is estimated at $100 billion to $1 trillion over the next 20 years. Our choices have long-term consequences, and the cost of traveling down any number of suboptimal, unsustainable technology paths is high. Both factors argue strongly for investments in prevention, avoidance, and innovation.


Scientific understanding of the environment and environmental quality have advanced together over the last 30 years. We have made significant progress in learning how to manage our environment and natural resources more effectively and to repair damage from past practices, largely due to our improved scientific knowledge of complex natural systems. At the same time, our growing knowledge has revealed vast gaps in our understanding of many environmental issues. We need additional information and new methods to manage future threats more effectively and efficiently. The assessment of the state of the environment and our scientific understanding of it can provide us with the knowledge we need to anticipate the potential consequences of current decisions, thus enabling us to make informed policy decisions and to avoid future problems.
The major international assessments of global-scale environmental changes demonstrate why this process is valuable. During the past decade, the U.S. research community has played an active role in efforts to document and understand the various components of the earth system - its land, sea, air, ice, and plant and animal life - on a scale never before attempted. Spurred by critical environmental problems threatening our future economy and quality of life, international global-scale efforts to analyze and understand our world, such as the World Climate Research Program, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, and the International Human Dimensions of Global Change Program, have led to the publication and dissemination of a series of landmark studies describing the state of our planet.
The results are often dramatic. To take just one example, the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that human activities are altering the natural greenhouse effect of the earth's atmosphere (that keeps average global temperature at a comfortable sixty degrees Fahrenheit), leading to climate changes that pose threats to agriculture, coastal areas, ecosystems, and human health. The reports of the IPCC, along with the ongoing World Meteorological Organization Assessments of Stratospheric Ozone Depletion and the first Global Biodiversity Assessment, form a truly global appraisal of the earth's environment: what we know about it, how we are affecting it, and the range of possibilities for the future.


Biodiversity is the array of living organisms, their relationships to each other and their environment, and their genetic make-up. Humans depend on earth's biodiversity for food, medicine, construction, clothing, energy, aesthetics, inspiration, and a host of ecosystem services that are critical for maintaining environmental quality, such as the purification of air and water. In many ways, biodiversity is intertwined in the economic and recreational fabric of our daily lives.
The Global Biodiversity Assessment (GBA) is the first international peer-reviewed assessment of the scientific underpinning of the biodiversity issue. Thousands of leading scientists contributed to this report, which covers the full range of biological, ecological, economic, and social issues relating to the current loss of biodiversity. The GBA directly addresses many of the scientific information needs of countries participating in the Convention on Biological Diversity by placing at their fingertips a compendium of up-to-date knowledge, including the following important conclusions:

  • Documented extinction rates for animals and plants are at least 50-100 times the expected natural rate (the average extinction rate for the last 500 million years, excluding periods of mass extinction). Documented rates are certainly an underestimate of the true rate of extinctions.
  • Because of the worldwide loss or conversion of habitats, tens of thousands of species are already committed to extinction. The extinction rate could grow to 1,000-10,000 times the background rate.
  • Even in the absence of extinction, species populations and the ecosystems in which they live are declining and increasingly fragmented.
  • Unlike previous major global extinctions, human activities are the primary cause of the current wave of extinctions.
  • It is not possible to take preventive action to save all threatened species, and mitigation options are narrowing over time.

Restoring a unique national treasure. As part of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, scientists and resource managers study the Everglades and Florida Bay ecosystems using Landsat imagery and other sophisticated methods. Visible are agricultural land (reddish), water conservation areas (blue with green lines of nutrient-rich canals), the Miami coastal metropolis (pink), the Everglades (dark blue-green), and Florida Bay (deep blue).

The process of assessment also pays dividends on smaller scales, as shown by the example of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. The South Florida ecosystem is a unique national treasure that includes the Everglades and Florida Bay and is inextricably linked to the Florida Keys to the south. Regional development led to water diversions and river channelizations that have disrupted the natural flow and led to steady declines in the area's habitat. The community came to recognize that the long-term viability and sustainability of the ecosystem is critical for the tourism and fishing industries, as well as the water supply, economy, and quality of life for South Florida's entire population of over six million people. In response, Federal agencies with capabilities and responsibilities in the area banded together with the state and tribal organizations to form the Task Force. Its science subgroup, drawing on relevant expertise from the academic community and Federal, state, and local organizations, built a solid foundation of research which supported development of a plan to restore the essential hydrologic functions of the historic wetlands in and around the Everglades. The restoration effort got under way in earnest in 1996. Scientists will continue monitoring studies to guide the restoration effort as it goes forward.
Among the most important roles of any assessment is that it identifies gaps in scientific knowledge, thus helping to define future research agendas. While specific problems and priorities may be identified, in a more general sense, the maintenance of a strong fundamental research effort in the environmental sciences is a necessary condition for the effective conduct of environmental assessments. This requires not only adequate funding for the broad spectrum of environmental science and technology, but also a commitment to excellence in research.
The Administration's funding record speaks for itself; the amount of funding for environmental science and technology has increased each year, even under the pressure of achieving annual decreases in the budget deficit. We have also established a strong record and continue to place a high priority on increasing the use of competitive peer-review mechanisms in awarding funding and providing extramural research support, both in the traditional fundamental research agencies like the National Science Foundation and in mission agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. The efforts of individual scientists and teams of scientists in the academic community and the Federal laboratories pursuing competitive research opportunities are one of the greatest strengths of our U.S. research and development system.
Another element critical to effective assessments is the creation and maintenance of high-quality monitoring and observations programs. The need for accurate, long-term measurements cuts across all areas of environmental research, assessment and management. Without them, it is impossible to construct an accurate picture of the status and trends of environmental conditions. Real progress has been made in the design and implementation of environmental monitoring programs, but a number of problems remain. Many programs are still focused on single parameters and have limited spatial coverage. Furthermore, it is more difficult to sustain support for operational systems for resource management purposes than to define and develop new systems. The challenge is to integrate effectively the many planned and existing systems to achieve comprehensive, consistent coverage, striking the right balance between technological innovation and continuity of measurements. A number of complementary Administration initiatives address these interlinked issues, including the Environmental Monitoring and Research Initiative discussed in the next section.


Among the greatest recent advances in environmental science and technology is the creation of a new generation of models - of molecules, of ecosystems, of the entire earth system, of human and industrial processes, and of the interaction between humans and our environment. These models result largely from a combination of precise measurement technologies, sophisticated measurement strategies, and vast increases in computing power. They assemble the experience gained from a wide array of observations, field programs, and laboratory studies into rigorous frameworks that are based on the underlying physical, chemical, and biological laws and principles that govern environmental processes. Then researchers test them under varied conditions in order to assess the models' reliability.
These tools give us an extraordinary capability to simulate environmental processes on scales from global to microscopic, to test cause and effect, and in some cases, to accurately forecast the near-term future. They can be used to understand what has caused various changes, to test different control strategies, and to develop predictions of what might happen so that preparations can be made. They provide the information needed for more effective and lower-cost problem solving, permitting us to examine a range of longer- term future scenarios and enable us to anticipate the consequences that can result from current decisions.
Coupled atmosphere-ocean models have been used to determine that human influences have caused a global warming of about one degree Fahrenheit over the past century. If the projected increases in the use of coal, oil, and natural gas over the next century are correct, these models indicate that global average temperatures would rise by about two degrees to six degrees Fahrenheit and sea level would rise by about two feet by the year 2100. Such projections serve as the basis for international negotiations on possible emissions controls that would prevent "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."
Models of the Pacific Ocean basin are increasingly accurate in predicting the appearance of El Nino events. These warmings of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean play an important role in determining U.S. seasonal climate conditions, such as below normal or above normal rainfall along the Pacific coast, and flooding and droughts in the southeastern and southwestern United States. Prediction of these El Nino events is already helping farmers to adjust their planting schedules and crops to maximize harvests and helping water managers to adjust releases, saving many millions of dollars. Improved weather forecast models and models of hurricanes have led to more accurate predictions of where landfall will occur. Evacuations are more timely, and the death toll from hurricanes has dropped over the past few decades.

Without the predictive power of high performance computing and satellite monitoring, the death and damage toll from Hurricane Fran would have been higher. This computer-enhanced satellite photograph shows the hurricane just before it came ashore at Cape Fear, North Carolina, in 1996. The 115 miles per hour winds of the 60,000 square mile storm killed 34 people and destroyed nearly $1 billion worth of property.

Environmental modeling also proves useful outside of the areas of climate and weather. Models of the flow of groundwater are helping to pinpoint where contaminants are going as they move below the ground. Such models are also being used to test pumping plans so that contaminants can be removed from the water and to slow the flows of the underground pollutant streams, thereby reducing potential adverse impacts.
Over the past four years, modeling advances have significantly improved our understanding of fisheries, enabling forecasts of future stocks that are improving the management of this important natural resource. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Bering Sea Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations Program now enables pollock stocks to be predicted three years in advance, a significant contribution to the sustainability of this $1 billion industry. The percentage of total stocks in the "unknown status" category has been reduced from 30 percent to 22 percent. This improved understanding has s upported fisheries management decisions that have resulted in a decrease in the number of over-fished or over-utilized stocks from 45 percent in 1992 to 33 percent in 1995.
These and many other examples, ranging from reducing the use of materials in products to improving the design of cars and airplanes for more efficient energy use, are helping to enhance public safety, to improve the environment, and to make societal activities more resilient to environmental conditions - and doing so in an economical manner through building of computer models rather than by building expensive, but incomplete, physical models, or conducting potentially harmful experiments on the environment itself.


The question of how ecosystems will respond to climate change and concurrent changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is one of the most important in the study of global change. Until recently, there has been little capability to model such changes and begin to assess vulnerabilities. The Vegetation/Ecosystem Modeling and Analysis Project (VEMAP) effort is providing a capability to do so by running a selection of ecological models for different climate scenarios and comparing the results. It is being conducted through a government-private partnership, with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Electric Power Research Institute, and the U.S. Forest Service all taking part.
VEMAP represents the state of the art in terms of predicting equilibrium responses of terrestrial ecosystems to climate change and elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. For assessment purposes, VEMAP provides policymakers and others with an initial indication of the sensitivity of natural ecosystems to climate change. Results to date clearly indicate that changes in climate parameters and carbon dioxide levels, both individually and collectively, could alter ecosystem structure by causing shifts, expansions, and/or contractions of forests, grasslands, and other major plant ecosystems. Such changes could also alter the basic functions of terrestrial ecosystems, including the rate of plant growth and the amount of carbon stored in land ecosystems.
The results of the VEMAP simulations are already providing useful input for other types of assessments of the effects of climate change. For instance, data on vegetation distribution patterns and tree growth have been used in an analysis of the effects of climate change on the timber industry. The vegetation redistribution results are also being incorporated into analyses of the implications of climate change for wildlife. Because the distribution and abundance of most animals is closely linked to vegetation, it is critical that assessments of impacts of climate change on animals incorporate both direct effects of changes in climate parameters and indirect effects due to changes in vegetation structure and function.


Working through the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), the Federal government is developing a national framework for an integrated monitoring and research network in response to the Vice President's call for a Report Card on the Health of the Nation's Ecosystems by 2001. This effort will allow, for the first time, a comprehensive evaluation of our nation's environmental resources and its ecological systems, thus producing a sound scientific information base to support natural resource assessment and decision making. It will add value to existing programs by linking broad-based survey, inventory, and monitoring information to research on environmental processes. An important result of this effort will be the provision of information to the public on what it is getting in return for its annual investment of over $120 billion in pollution abatement and control. The Departments of Agriculture, Energy, and the Interior; the Environmental Protection Agency; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the National Science Foundation are partners in this venture.
A key aspect of this initiative is to achieve closer linkage of Federal environmental monitoring and research networks and programs, which together spend about $650 million annually. Many of these programs focus on a single resource or issue. Better integration of scientific data produced from the nation's numerous remote sensing, inventories, surveys, intensive monitoring, and research networks - nearly 15,000 Federal environmental monitoring sites - will allow the simultaneous assessment of multiple resources and will contribute to a better understanding of the causes and effects of environmental change. This ability to predict how an action will affect the health of ecosystems in the future will allow significant advances from our current management of ecosystems and natural resources. Work on this important initiative is well under way:

  • A draft framework for integration has been completed and published.
  • A mid-Atlantic Regional Workshop in April 1996 laid the basis for a pilot demonstration project that will begin in early 1997.
  • A National Workshop in September 1996 endorsed the draft framework.
  • An interagency Integrated Environmental Monitoring Steering Committee is coordinating program development, working closely with the Federal Geographic Data Committee, the Interagency Task Force on Monitoring of Water Quality, and other relevant organizations.

This initiative will be linked to both local decision-makers and to global environmental programs. It is a partnership with state and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, private industry, and citizens - the people whose decisions affect our nation's environment. Coordinating this nationwide effort with those of other nations, and with the major global-scale observation programs that are now being defined and implemented, can lead to an international monitoring network capable of detecting large-scale, long-term environmental changes, such as improvements in response to environmental policies or detection of new, and perhaps unanticipated changes due to climate and other environmental or anthropogenic change.


In the next three decades, the population of the United States will grow by 60 million people - an increase of approximately 40,000 individuals per week. Our economy is expected to more than double in size during this same period. Given these trends, we must develop a new generation of technologies capable of supplying the goods and services that society needs with less energy, fewer materials, and far less environmental damage. We cannot afford significant increases in industrial emissions and use of natural resources.
A "do more with less strategy" that emphasizes increased efficiency in energy use and industrial processes brings significant economic and environmental benefits. Many industries already realize this. The "Pollution Prevention Pays" program developed by 3M has cut overall emissions by more than a billion pounds since 1975 while saving $500 million, and Chevron has saved $10 million in waste disposal costs in the first three years of its "Save Money and Reduce Toxics" program. At a macroeconomic level, a 1993 analysis by the Department of Energy indicated that a 10-20 percent reduction in waste by American industry would result in a cumulative increase of almost $2 trillion in our Gross Domestic Product by 2010 and generate nearly two million new jobs. The global market for environmental goods and services is presently estimated to be about $400 billion and is expected to grow to over $500 billion by the year 200 0. The U.S. market is now $170 billion and will approach $200 billion by the year 2000.
The required efficiency improvements in our technological infrastructure can only be achieved through collaboration among industry, academia, and communities to develop long-term goals, measure performance along multiple dimensions and scales, and implement complementary policies to encourage high levels of innovation. Understanding current (and anticipating future) requirements for natural resources, and reducing our reliance on virgin sources, is critical to achieving successful improvements in efficiency. Over the past four years, the Administration has collaborated with various industry sectors to both set long-term goals and develop technological roadmaps to achieve those objectives. For example, the technology roadmap developed with the pulp and paper industry is expected to drive down environmental compliance costs from more than $11 billion to $3-4 billion by 2020.

By helping to reduce costs and by stimulating market adoption of U.S. renewable energy technologies, the Administration is accelerating the environmental, economic, and security benefits of increased use of renewable resources. This Northern California wind farm is an example of how fundamental and applied research helps the renewable energy industry develop advanced products. Wind-generated electricity is closely competitive with conventional electric power in several regions.

We must shift our focus away from traditional, isolated, end-of-pipe solutions to the integrated design of whole processes and systems of technologies. For instance, through process changes, Intel, at its Aloha, Oregon, plant was able to more than double production over a three-year period with no increase in emissions and without investing in traditional control technologies. Over time, strategies to make better use of valuable resources will have to extend across the entire value chain, from the extraction of raw materials to their processing, use, disposal, or eventual reuse.
To facilitate the development and widespread use of more cost-effective environmental technologies, the environmental regulatory system needs to reward innovation and encourage the development of more integrated approaches. Along these lines, Environmental Protection Agency programs such as Project XL, ReFit (Regulatory Flexibility for Innovative Technology), and the Common Sense Initiative encourage industry to try to solve environmental problems through agreement on aggressive goals and standards for pollution prevention rather than through detailed regulation of industrial processes. As part of these efforts to reinvent our regulatory system, we will need a new generation of monitoring technologies that provide flexibility and preserve accountability for our communities.


Maintaining a robust and affordable supply of energy while reducing the environmental impacts of energy production and use is vital for our economic prosperity, national security, and environmental quality. America relies largely on fossil fuels, yet emissions from fossil energy use are among the most significant threats to sustainable environmental quality and human health. The consequences of our energy choices are significant and long-lasting:

  • An appliance or an automobile lasts about 15 years.
  • Residential and commercial buildings are designed to last 20-30 years or more.
  • Power plant technologies last 30-40 years.
  • Increased levels of carbon dioxide persist in the atmosphere for 100-200 years.

Energy-related emissions cause health problems, acid rain, and global warming. They account for more than 90 percent of sulfur-dioxide, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and most of the smallest particulates (those less than 2.5 microns in diameter) emitted by human activities in the United States. More than 50 million Americans live in areas where tropospheric ozone concentrations still exceed safe levels, with significant costs. For example, even though air quality has improved, increased respiratory-related illnesses due to air pollution in Los Angeles are estimated to cost more than $9 billion a year in medical expenses and lost work time.
The burning of fossil fuels has added vast quantities of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Temperatures have increased about one degree Fahrenheit over the last century, glaciers are retreating worldwide, and the ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1980. The current rate of climate change is faster than any experienced in the last 10,000 years. The likely consequences include negative impacts on human health, ecosystems, coastal areas, water resources, and agriculture.
In the past four years, we have made great strides to combat global warming. The government is working with over 5,000 partners in the Climate Change Action Plan to slow the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions through a variety of means, including: (1) signing voluntary agreements with the bulk of our utility industry; (2) forging partnerships with manufacturer to produce energy efficient computers, buildings, and lighting systems; and (3) developing innovative technologies and strategies in forestry, transportation, and other areas. But reducing the growth rate is not enough; over time, we will have to achieve real emission reductions to reduce health effects, stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Despite these efforts, national energy use has increased by over 15 percent from 1990. Efficiency improvements have enabled much of this increase to be absorbed without a commensurate increase in pollution. However, it appears that demand growth is now beginning to outstrip efficiency gains. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that U.S. consumption, driven by continued low prices, will rise more than one third over the next 20 years, with significant continued emissions of carbon. According to the EIA:

  • New cars bought through 2005 will emit 2,000 million metric tons of carbon (MMTC) over their lifetimes, while using 20 billion barrels of oil.
  • Electricity technology choices from now to 2005 will result in emissions of more than 1,600 MMTC over the lifetimes of the technologies.

A robust energy future for the United States requires a diverse portfolio of technologies and options that allow us to modify our current energy supply system to include more efficient conversion of fossil fuels, to shift from higher carbon fuels to lower carbon fuels, to increase utilization of renewable energy technologies and, in the longer term, develop nuclear energy options while greatly enhancing energy end-use efficiency. For these reasons, the Administration has consistently recommended budget increases for clean energy research, development, and demonstration.


A number of organizations are looking toward the future and seeing a world with a very different mix of energy resources. The World Energy Council has forecast that alternative fuels could meet the bulk of our energy needs by 2050. Royal Dutch Shell, the largest and most profitable oil company in the world, envisions a future in which energy efficiency improves, use of renewable energy sources grows, and fossil fuels peak in the middle of the next century. Chris Fay, CEO of Shell U.K. Ltd., has noted the challenge and the opportunity:

    "There is clearly a limit to fossil fuel...but what about the growing gap between demand and fossil fuel supplies? Some will obviously be filled by hydroelectric and nuclear power. Far more important will be the contribution of alternative renewable energy supplies."

Science and technology are an important aspect of meeting this challenge. An integrated environmental/energy R&D strategy is necessary to reduce emissions, reduce impacts, and reduce foreign energy dependency without hurting U.S. economic competitiveness.
Key elements of such a strategy include defining and agreeing on long-term goals, and government-private sector cooperation in developing new technologies and moving hem from the laboratory to the marketplace. We have laid the groundwork for an improved energy system by strongly supporting energy efficiency, renewable energy, fusion power, and pollution prevention R&D to help reduce emissions and create a diverse energy portfolio, and through strong support of industry-government research and development partnerships to stimulate innovation.

  • The Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle program, described in detail in the Technology chapter, joins the big three U.S. auto makers, Federal agencies, and many suppliers of materials and equipment in an effort to develop a more efficient car.
  • The Departments of Energy and Agriculture are cooperating on biomass energy research and development, working with private companies to demonstrate power projects for rural development and improve technologies for converting crops to liquid and gaseous fuels, with pilot projects in New York, Minnesota, and Iowa.
  • In our Building Initiative, a number of agencies are working together in partnership with industry to develop new technologies and practices for building more efficient and sustainable housing.

We are pursuing other renewable options, as well as fusion energy as a long-term alternative within the framework of international collaboration. There are many additional opportunities for progress. Taking advantage of such opportunities remains a fundamental Administration priority.

Great global potential exists for renewable energy. This Shell Oil Company forecast shows increasing energy demand, with much greater dependence on energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and less on fossil fuels. The primary challenge to expanding the role of renewable energy resources is the need to further reduce costs to ensure that competitive renewable energy technology is available in domestic and international markets. This availability depends on sufficient research and development investments now.


The Administration's accomplishments and plans for environmental research and development demonstrate its commitment to sustainability and to defining and implementing the science and technology agenda that will support this goal. We are beginning to apply science and technology in the active pursuit of sustainable environmental quality by assessing, anticipating, and avoiding environmental problems. In addition, we remain committed to improving scientific understanding of fundamental biogeochemical processes. This knowledge can be used to address problems created in decades past from inappropriate, ill-informed, and illegal disposal of toxic chemical wastes.
Instead of looking at environmental problems in isolation, we are adopting a more integrated view of environmental problem-solving that recognizes the connections between environmental issues. We are expanding the traditional single-agency, single-discipline analysis of the environment to a broader multi-agency, multi-disciplinary approach that fosters better collaboration between physical, chemical, biological, social, and economic scientists. Better coordination among Federal agencies is improving the government's effectiveness in addressing environmental problems of national importance and mutual interest. We will continue to refine our strategy, and to build upon the tradition of bipartisan support for the application of science and technology to environmental quality as we pursue the near-term priorities outlined below.


A growing body of scientific evidence has begun to suggest that a range of chemicals we have introduced into the environment may be producing adverse health effects in humans and in wildlife by disrupting endocrine system function. These chemicals, collectively referred to as endocrine disruptors, exert their effects by mimicking or interfering with actions of hormones. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) include some pesticides (such as DDT and its derivatives), industrial chemicals (such as surfactants and PCBs), drugs (such as DES), and contaminants (such as dioxins).
Most of the adverse biological effects ostensibly associated with exposure to endocrine disruptors, such as physical and behavioral reproductive dysfunction, have been observed in wildlife populations that received relatively high levels of exposure to persistent chlorinated compounds. It is unclear whether similar, albeit more subtle, effects are occurring in humans or in wildlife populations at lower exposure levels, as insufficient data exist. Reports of possible declines in sperm production in humans over the last four decades - as well as increases in rates of certain cancers that may have an endocrine-related basis (breast, prostate, testicular )-have led to speculation about environmentally mediated endocrine disruption. These observations, coupled with data from controlled laboratory studies on reproductive, neurologic and immunologic effects following exposure to some EDCs, have generated a climate of concern surrounding the potential consequences of exposure to endocrine disruptors. The fact that many of the same hormones and their receptors are present across different species, genera, classes and even different phyla of organisms suggests that effects reported in one species from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals could have widespread biological implications. Relative ecological and human health risks are undetermined, however.
Given the widespread distribution and persistence of some EDCs in the environment and the potential for serious effects in human, fish and wildlife populations, a Federal research strategy is being developed through the NSTC. To this end the NSTC established a working group involving 14 Federal agencies to address EDCs as a coordinated national effort. The working group is proceeding through a three-step process designed to (1) develop a research planning framework, (2) conduct an inventory of Federally supported research on endocrine disruptors, and (3) formulate a Federal research strategy.
Since the NSTC identified EDCs as a priority initiative in November 1995, the Working Group has completed a research planning framework, "The Health and Ecological Effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals-A Framework for Planning," which was presented to representatives of national, nongovernmental, and international funding agencies at a public meeting in November 1996. In addition, an inventory of Federally supported research on EDCs was released to the public at that time. The inventory can be accessed on the Internet at http://www.epa.gov/endocrine. It is being expanded to include additional Federal entries, as well as entries from industry and nongovernment organizations. Moreover, the inventory structure developed by the NSTC working group is being used as a model for launching a similar European effort to inventory on-going research on EDCs.


This Administration is strongly committed to reducing losses from natural disasters by supporting programs in observing, documenting, understanding, assessing, and predicting the potential consequences of natural hazards. Highly populated urban and metropolitan areas are especially vulnerable to natural hazards, as illustrated by the meteoric rise of government expenditures and private losses in recent years. Natural hazards of terrestrial origin (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, tsunamis, hurricanes and other severe storms, tornadoes and high winds, floods, wildfires, and drought) and solar-terrestrial hazards (solar flares and geomagnetic storms) are inevitable. The long-term effects of natural disasters - the lingering disruption of entire communities, persisting long after the event - are determined as much by societal behavior and practice as by nature itself. The impacts of natural disasters can be, at a minimum, mitigated or, in some instances, prevented entirely.
Three major policy emphases are recommended to enable the nation to better meet the challenges posed by natural disasters: (1) anticipate and assess the risk, rather then simply reacting to disasters; (2) focus on a comprehensive approach to mitigation that builds in resilience at the earliest planning stages; and, (3) implement warning and information dissemination systems that allow society to bring its resilience into play. The research agenda to support these objectives includes:

  • Improving understanding of the physical and biological nature of natural hazards.
  • Improving understanding of the impacts of natural hazards on human health, ecological systems, and socioeconomic framework (to improve the resilience of these systems to natural variability, particularly extreme events).
  • Expanding the base of new environmental technologies (especially engineering and technological capabilities for natural disaster reduction).
  • Improving data management.
  • Improving assessments of risk with respect to geographical and temporal specificity of risks likely from individual hazards and to cumulative risk associated with multiple hazards.


Over the past decade, a series of global environmental changes have been documented in increasing detail. Not only have we demonstrated that climate change, the loss of biodiversity, stratospheric ozone depletion, alteration of the land surface, and changes in the nitrogen balance of the earth's soils and waters are all occurring and changing the environment on a global scale, but we have also established beyond a reasonable doubt that human activities are among the driving sources of such change. We are recognizing that these changes are interrelated, and that they form a suite of multiple stresses affecting people and the earth's ecosystems in numerous ways.
Increased regional-level understanding of the environment and how it is changing is needed to better explain the relationship between multiple stresses, and their effects on ecosystems. Even more importantly, such knowledge is necessary for the design of effective mitigation and adaptation measures. Achieving this enhanced understanding requires a number of changes in the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and we are cooperating with the participating agencies and the science community to incorporate the following approaches into our long-term research strategy.
Regionally Resolved Estimates of the Timing and Magnitude of Climate Change: The earth is a complex system with physical, chemical, and biological processes interacting on a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. For example, human-induced increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide are causing climate change, and are also likely to have a direct biological impact manifested as changes in the extent and distribution of the earth's vegetative cover. This, in turn, affects hydrology and surface albedo and could further affect climate. Direct experiments involving these complex interactions and feedbacks, which would yield reliable predictions of future climates, are not possible. Instead, scientists must depend on simplified predictive models of the climate system.
The resolution of these models needs to be improved to make them more useful for work on the ecological, economic, and social consequences of climate change. They must be able to simulate natural phenomena on scales of tens rather than hundreds of kilometers. Achieving this improvement involves theoretical and practical challenges. The theoretical challenges to the down-scaling involve a range of issues including how to deal with cloud physics and how to represent the effects of highly variable topography on climate. The practical challenges are focused around the issue of enhanced computational power.
Regional Analyses of the Consequences of Climate Change Alone and in the Context of Other Pressures on Ecosystems: Decision makers, including resource managers, business people, and politicians, as well as the general public want to know what the consequences of climate change will be for their regions. They have a keen interest in the potential connections between climate change and the frequency and magnitude of disturbances. Some of the regionally specific questions being asked about disturbance include: Will wildfire frequency and severity increase in the southwestern United States? Will the frequency and severity of droughts change in the Great Plains? Will the number and extent of severe floods increase in the upper Mississippi Basin? Will the eastern seaboard be subject to more frequent and severe tropical storms and hurricanes?
Disturbances like fire, drought, floods, and strong winds can, in turn, affect the function and structure of land and water ecosystems. Properties of ecosystems that humans value, such as plant productivity, carbon-storage capacity, and species composition may change in response to climate change. Scientists do not yet have the capacity to predict these changes with confidence. To do so will require the study of complex interactions among ecological processes through long-term monitoring activities, large-scale field manipulations, and simulation modeling efforts.
Integrated Assessment Methods: Global climate change is the subject of wide-ranging debates, intense negotiations, and policy decisions that have the potential to reach into many aspects of society. There is a pressing need to support these processes with careful analyses that focus on predictions of causes and effects of climate change through efforts that bring together the physical, biological economic, and social sciences. Forecasts of concentrations of greenhouse gases and atmospheric aerosols, which are integral to climate analyses, must consider the forces of economics and technology that drive and control emissions. In turn, assessments of possible ecological and social impacts, and the analyses of alternative strategies for adaptation and mitigation, need to be based on careful climate science that takes into account its own uncertainties.
This challenge of integrated assessment of climate change is beginning to be approached through a coupled-model framework. The components of this framework vary among extant integrated assessments, but often include an economic model for analyses of emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosol precursors, atmospheric chemistry and general circulation models, and models of natural and managed ecosystems for analyses of consequences of climate change. At present, models describing complex nonmarket societal decisions are generally not included in the coupled-model framework. The existing integrated assessment models all run at the global scale, but also are regionally resolved. The challenge is to refine the integrated assessment concept and to make the results of this work available to decision makers.


For many years, scientists have predicted that greenhouse gases and microscopic particles that are building up in the earth's atmosphere due to human activity will eventually alter the climate. One of the decade's most important findings in atmospheric science indicates that this forecast is coming true. For the first time, the vast majority of the world's leading climate experts agreed that "the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate."

This finding, reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is based on a variety of observational and modeling results, including measurements of temperature taken from balloons, land, and ocean regions. The conclusion of scientists from more than 100 countries gives new credence to the concern that human-induced climate change could have profound consequences for the economy, human health, and quality of life in future generations.
Global temperature records indicate an overall warming of about one degree Fahrenheit from the 1860s to the 1990s. Additional records derived from indirect measures such as tree rings and ice cores suggest that the most recent decades are the warmest period since at least 1400 A.D., and perhaps since the last interglacial period about 80,000 years ago. Based on plausible ranges of future emissions of greenhouse gases, models suggest that the global surface temperature could increase an average of two to six degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.
Scientists agree that human activity is changing the composition of the atmosphere, but the human influence on climate is more difficult to distinguish because some climate fluctuation is natural. The task is further complicated because the rising average global temperature shows wide spatial variation: some parts of the world have warmed more than others, and some have grown cooler.
In making their assessments, scientists compare observations and computer model simulations that generate patterns of climate change to be expected from a range of different factors, both natural and human-induced. For example, unique patterns of human-induced temperature change are expected from the combination of growing industrial emissions of greenhouse gases (that trap heat emitted from the surface) and sulfate particles, or aerosols (that cool the atmosphere by reflecting incoming sunlight). Researchers analyze these characteristic patterns or "fingerprints" in an approach akin to that used by a doctor trying to explain a general rise in body temperature by recognizing a diagnostic pattern of a specific illness.
Since 1990, climatologists have grown increasingly confident in their climate simulations because the models now incorporate additional processes such as the effects of sulfate aerosols and the effect of ocean currents on heat transport. When these factors are included, model simulations of the last 130 years are in quite reasonable accord with observed changes over this period.
These new results have enabled scientists to conclude that the observed patterns of climate change are highly likely to be due primarily to human activities, and are inconsistent with changes that would be caused solely by changes in solar radiation, volcanoes, and other natural causes. With continuing use of fossil fuels, scientists expect the similarity between model-predicted changes due to human activities and observed patterns of actual change to become stronger in years to come.

This incontrovertible record is among the most fundamental evidence of global-scale human perturbation of the earth system. This figure displays the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the last 1,000 years. Particularly rapid growth began in the mid 1800s, when the industrial revolution resulted in significant increases in carbon dioxide emissions that continue today. After 1950, the growth rate again jumped significantly.


Human-induced regional and global changes in temperature, precipitation, soil moisture, and sea level add important new stresses on ecological and socio-economic systems that are already affected by pollution, increasing resource extraction, and non-sustainable management practices.

The projected changes in climate include potentially disruptive effects that will affect the economy and the quality of life for this and future generations.

Human health will be adversely affected through an increase in the rate of heat-related mortality and in the potential for the spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and encephalitis and non-vector-borne diseases such as cholera and salmonellosis.

Food security will be threatened in some regions of the world, especially in the tropics and subtropics, where many of the world's poorest people live, even though the effects of climate change on total global food production may be small to moderate in comparison to the effects of population change and increasing nutrition demands.

Water resources will be increasingly stressed, leading to substantial economic, social, and environmental costs, especially in regions that are already water-limited and where there is strong competition among users.

Human habitat loss will occur in regions where small islands and coastal plain and river areas are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, leading to environmental refugees.

Natural ecosystems will be degraded because the composition, geographic distribution, and productivity of many ecosystems will shift as individual species respond to changes in climate. This may lead to reductions in biological diversity and in the goods and services ecosystems can provide for society.

Some extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, will occur more frequently.

Developing countries are more vulnerable than developed countries to climate change because of reduced flexibility and resilience caused by their socio-economic conditions.


More than three years after the Great Midwest Flood of 1993, life is back to normal in the Upper Mississippi River Basin (UMRB), but the way the basin is studied has changed forever. The President stimulated this change as the flood waters began to recede and he wondered how to prevent damage and loss of life when the floodwaters rise again. One way seemed to be for the Federal government to purchase lands where residents were at greatest risk, move the people out of the floodplain, and then allow the lands to revert to wetlands. But which lands?
The scientists asked to make the recommendations quickly set about gathering the information required to answer not only this question, but also to meet the greater goals of reducing the nation's vulnerability to the dangers that result from floods, and to preserve the natural resources and functions of the floodplains. The result is a comprehensive database that makes full use of science and advances in technology to improve management of the floodplain.
A multidisciplinary, multi-agency team of researchers, known as the Scientific Assessment and Strategy Team (SAST), drawn from more than a dozen Federal agencies quickly concluded that the problem is not only in the floodplain, but in the higher elevations, or uplands, which comprise the majority of the river basin, and where much precipitation tends to collect. The team of experts recommended a new approach, managing the basin as a system, rather than as a patchwork of individual components. This requires information on topics as diverse as the basin's hydrology, geology, ecology, topography, and hydraulics, as well as information such as patterns of insurance payments, location of hazardous waste sites, and the configuration of wastewater treatment plants.
In an intensive effort, the researchers identified and consolidated existing information, including the wealth of pre- and post-flood satellite images acquired for other purposes. These reveal details about forests, agriculture, bare soil, water, and urban areas. The researchers tapped the resources of approximately 20 Federal agencies, 13 state governments, and hundreds of local, county, and regional governments, as well as banks, insurance companies, and other organizations.

Scientists are using radar and topographic data to assess more accurately the potential for future flooding and to lessen its impacts. This image of the Missouri River indicates the effects on low-lying agricultural land from a burst levee which scoured a deep channel across the fields, showing up as a purple band in the center. This picture, taken from the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Topographic Synthetic Aperture Radar System on a DC-8 aircraft, is an example of the use of experimental instrumentation to support resource management and natural disaster mitigation.

The data form the basis for a computerized regional geographic information system (GIS) of the entire upper Mississippi River Basin. It makes full use of information technology to provide the data required to manage the floodplain. Due to its existence, more is known about the 1993 flood than about any other natural disaster.
Reports by the team of experts influenced studies or actions including the following:

  • Project funds provided the data that allowed the Corps of Engineers to run the first-ever integrated hydraulic model of the Mississippi River. The results are changing prevailing views on levees, which are raised structures designed to keep a river from overflowing. The model revealed that levees have an impact not only immediately upstream or downstream, but throughout the course of the river. This finding that will influence which levees are maintained or rebuilt.
  • Data showed that many people, as they awaited the advancing flood waters, purchased flood insurance. This finding prompted Congress to enact legislation that lengthened the period during which a subscriber must wait for a policy to become effective, from five to 30 days. The change will save the Flood Insurance Program millions of dollars it would otherwise pay out to last-minute buyers, while still providing coverage to program participants who recognize the need for continuous protection, and pay for it.
  • Some agricultural areas are being allowed to revert to wetlands, which naturally retain water during floods.
  • One particularly useful tool currently being developed is a series of maps of one area of the Missouri River. These show how current scientific and technical information on different features of the floodplain can be consolidated and used to improve floodplain management.

Federal agencies and non-federal organizations will continue to maintain the database. So far, the Internet site has been contacted about 16,000 times by people in the Federal, state, and local governments, and at U.S. and international universities, who can access, download, and use the data for their own research. The address is http://edcwww.cr.usgs.gov/sast-home.html.


Amidst the millions of acres of Arizona desert, a 12-acre oasis may not seem like much - but the tiny green space is home to beaver, muskrats, bobcats, reptiles, and more than 45 bird species. Little do they know that the "oasis," which residents of Phoenix know as the Tres Rios wetlands, exists thanks to the treated wastewater pumped through it every day. This enterprising research effort is a "constructed" wetland, designed by the City of Phoenix and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to demonstrate treatment technologies for reclaiming municipal, industrial, domestic, and agricultural wastewater. It is an example of the kind of innovative thinking stimulated by the Environmental Technology Initiative sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Now in its second year, the Tres Rios project already excels in its primary purpose: removing contaminants from effluent water while providing high quality wetland habitat. Like its natural counterparts, this manmade wetland ably removes nitrogen compounds, such as ammonia, and many other pollutants from the water, and replenishes the water with the oxygen required by fish, turtles, and frogs.
The project came about in response to concern by managers of Phoenix's 91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant that, despite its current high level of compliance, it might be unable to meet future clean water standards with existing technology. They selected two relatively large areas - one a former hayfield and one a cobblestone-lined portion of the Salt River channel - and a smaller, 12-celled research site where scientists have greater experimental control over variables that affect water quality treatment.
At all the sites, researchers monitor how the water quality is affected by factors such as deep water zones and mixing, specific plants, and the kind of material, such as clay soil or giant cobbles, that lines the bottom. Much of the actual "cleansing" work is carried out by populations of microbes that reduce concentrations of many contaminants, nitrogen, trace metals, trace organic substances, and pathogens. The research site also provides a nursery in which the city grows emergent wetland plants which are then transplanted to other sites.
So far, the wetlands require only a small portion of the 150 million gallons that flow through the wastewater treatment plant each day. But city and plant managers, as well as the residents of Phoenix, are so delighted by their new recreational and ecological haven that plans are afoot to eventually expand the wetlands to 800 acres. Such an area could handle virtually all of the plant's daily output of treated wastewater. It will also give residents unprecedented access to the secondary benefits a wetland can afford: a place to birdwatch, hike, ride horses and bikes, welcome and protect endangered species, and generally learn about one of nature's special and most productive ecosystems.
The Tres Rios project will serve as a regional, and possibly a national, platform for the design, use, and regulation of surface-flow constructed wetlands as water treatment and habitat restoration sites.

  • The Tres Rios constructed wetland is designed to provide secondary treatment to a municipal Publicly Owned Treatment Works and provide habitat for endangered species.
  • This project is a demonstration-sized pilot study, the results of which are directly applicable to 20 communities across the country.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, City of Phoenix, and EPA Region 9 are cooperating on this pilot project.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation and the City of Phoenix are working as partners to raise funds to create a full-scale surface flow constructed wetland.
  • This project is part of EPA's effort to facilitate the development and use of environmental technologies through the Environmental Technology Initiative and the ReFit (Regulatory Flexibility for Innovative Technology) program.

"Tres Rios is an economic solution to necessary water treatment with additional valuable benefits that include much needed and highly valued fish and wildlife habitats, flood control to protect local residents, and recreational opportunities for all," states Skip Rimsza, the Mayor of Phoenix.


  • Created the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR)
    -Improved coordination and integration of environmental research and development
  • Promoted science-based regulation
  • Focused research efforts on saving lives and property from the effects of earthquakes
  • Improved weather forecasting with new monitoring and computer technologies
  • Improved understanding of climate and short-term climate prediction
    -Showed that tropical Pacific Ocean El Ni÷no phenomena affects the United States
    -Increased accuracy in predicting the onset of El Nino events
  • Improved understanding of climate change
    -Demonstrated human influence on climate (greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions)
    -Increased efforts to understand vulnerabilities to climate change
  • Established more effective natural resource monitoring
    -Improved planning and implementation of monitoring activities
    -Began integration of environmental monitoring and research programs
  • Began a major effort to understand and mitigate the effects of climate change on human health
  • Developed an interagency research plan to address the key scientific questions about the potential impacts on humans and wildlife of endocrine disrupting chemicals
  • Improved space-based earth observations
    -Began converging DOD, DOC/NOAA, and NASA polar-orbit weather satellite activities
    -Restructured the Landsat program to assure continuity and reduce long-term costs
    -Introduced new science and technologies in NASA's Mission to Planet Earth
  • Developed a national environmental technology strategy
    -Stimulated development, deployment and use of environmental technologies
  • Launched the North American Research Strategy for Tropospheric Ozone (NARSTO)
    -Public-private research partnership with Canada and Mexico
  • Improved tools for transportation and air quality monitoring
  • Established the Rapid Commercialization Initiative
  • Enhanced collaboration between the environmental science, national security and intelligence communities
    -Applied intelligence technologies to environmental R&D
    -Declassified selected data sets useful for environmental studies.


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Table of Contents

Cover Page

Title Page

Letter from the President to Congress

Letter from the Director of OSTP

Introduction and Overview

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6


Photo Credits