Setting U.S. Environmental Policy for 1996

Article excerpt

Even in Washington, D.C. - referred to locally as "inside the Beltway" - U.S. science policy sometimes seems to bubble up out of nowhere. But last week, the setting of priorities for research in natural resources and the environment became both more public and more systematic when the executive branch committee charged with formulating that policy bared its documents to outsiders.

Not more than a mile from the White House, about 200 academic and government scientists, industry representatives, and members of nongovernment organizations offered their views last week about what was important in air quality, biediversity, global change, resource use, natural disaster reduction, water resources, marine and coastal environments, risk assessment, toxic substances, and other issues.

The 3-day forum signaled the further integration of interested parties into a policy-making process that now extends well beyond the Beltway.

During his presidency, George Bush set a precedent by creating an interagency committee to deal with the question of global change (SN: 2/3/90, p.71). He set up similar panels for other key science and technology issues (SN: 2/8/92, p.86). In November 1993, as part of the new administration's plan to reinvent government, Bill Clinton increased the status of science and technology by creating the cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council.

As one of the nine committees making up this council, the Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources must create funding priorities for the fiscal 1996 federal budget. It chose to do this by asking outside "stakeholders" to comment on draft policies. In this way, researchers can directly help shape the committee's recommendations, due this fall, says Eileen Shea of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Somewhat surprisingly, agreement emerged not only between the committee and these stakeholders, but also among the different panels charged with evaluating the various issues, says D. …