American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

National Institute for the Environment Update (10-22-98)

Most Recent Action
It appears that a National Institute for the Environment (NIE) will not be housed in the National Science Foundation (NSF), at least not this year. Both the Senate Appropriations Committee have agreed with the National Science Foundation's assessment, mandated by Congress in last year's appropriations bill, that NSF is not the appropriate place for an NIE. When the study was released by NSF in April, NIE supporters had argued that the NSF report did not fulfill the request of Congress -- to report on how, not whether, to implement an NIE within NSF -- and expressed hope that appropriators would demand a new report in this year's bill.

The FY99 appropriations bills do not request a new report. The Senate VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations report language states: "The Committee concurs with the Foundation's view that environmental research is an important area that should be strengthened. The Committee believes that this objective can be accomplished without the creation of additional bureaucratic structure. The Committee looks forward to forthcoming proposals from OSTP, NSF, and the National Science and Technology Council concerning a national science and technology strategy for the environment, which was recommended in the NSF's April report to the Committee." The House report language is silent on NIE.

NSF Assessment
On April 22nd, the National Science Foundation (NSF) reported to Congress on the feasibility of creating a National Institute for the Environment (NIE) within NSF. In the fiscal year 1998 VA, HUD, & Independent Agencies appropriations bill, which funds NSF's current budget, Congress mandated that NSF "study how it would establish and operate" an NIE. At a House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research hearing, NSF Director Neal Lane summarized the report by stating that an NIE "exceeds the boundaries of NSF." The NSF report echoes the views of its governing body, the National Science Board, which last month passed a resolution opposing creation of an NIE within NSF, warning that it "could isolate environment al research from related science and engineering research." Both the NSB resolution and the NSF report have come under heavy fire from NIE supporters.

At the hearing, Lane told the subcommittee that better scientific information on environmental issues is necessary and a coordinated response to this inquiry should be a priority, but it is not appropriate for NSF to take this role. He said that many federal agencies should continue to play a role with regard to the environment and coordinate through existing structures such as the National Science and Technology Council. A stand-alone entity -- which is essentially what an NIE would be with its own board and director -- would duplicate existing programs and possibly would take away scientific expertise and resources from NSF.

The negative report came as a blow to the Committee for the National Institute for the Environment (CNIE), which made significant efforts to sway NSF as the report was being developed. In January, 146 university and college presidents and chancellors sent a letter urging the National Science Foundation "to be bold and enthusiastic in response to the recent Congressional directive to study how NSF would establish and operate a National Institute for the Environment." The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also wrote to NSF in support of the NIE, declaring "American business needs the best scientific data available on a broad range of environmental problems, but federal environmental research is often too fragmented and ineffective. A National Institute for the Environment will provide a lasting mechanism to link credible science to sensible environmental decisions."

The reports by the NSF and the NSB do not mean the fight for an NIE is over. CNIE and some in Congress argue that the NSB did not adequately respond to the congressional request. On March 30th, Representatives Jim Saxton (R-NJ) and Neil Abercrombie (D- HI) wrote to NSF stating, "Congress clearly directed the NSF to prepare a report as to how it would incorporate an NIE, not whether it would do so. It is incumbent upon the NSF to follow Congress' request. If the NSF report does go in the direction of the NSB Resolution, it should be redrafted to more directly respond to Congress' directive."

The NSF study is available at

National Science Board Assessment

Dr. Richard Zare, chair of the National Science Board (NSB), the governing body of NSF, released the NSB position on an NIE on March 20. In an NSB Executive Committee meeting, the NSB approved the following resolution, recommending against the formation of an NIE:

WHEREAS the National Science Foundation (NSF) was asked by the conference report accompanying the FY 1998 Appropriations Act to comment on the proposal to establish a National Institute for the Environment (NIE); and

WHEREAS the establishment of the NIE, as proposed, within the National Science Foundation would fundamentally affect NSF structure, programs, and priorities;

Be it RESOLVED that:

The NSB has considered the NIE proposal and agrees that there is need for expanded environmental research, education, and assessment;

NSF has a legitimate role in fundamental environmental research and education, that it actively supports such research, and has an opportunity to enlarge its role in the future;

NSF can most constructively exercise a legitimate leadership role in environmental research and education within an interagency framework coordinated by White House agencies and the various coordinating committees of the National Science and Technology Council; and that

A separate organization or entity would not be an effective means of achieving the intellectual goals connected with the proposed NIE because it could isolate environmental research from related science and engineering research, as well as be duplicative of the existing policy and management structure and entail unnecessary cost.

Congressional Action
On November 7, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) and Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ) introduced H.R. 2914, the Sound Science for the Environment Act, which now has over 90 cosponsors. The bill authorizes and directs the National Science Foundation to establish a National Institute for the Environment (NIE). Funding will come from congressional appropriations, federal agencies, states, and private institutions. No money, however, will be taken from existing NSF programs to fund the NIE. The NIE would be governed by an 18 member board of scientists and users of scientific information. The Committee on Environment and Natural Resources of the National Science and Technology Council would serve as an interagency advisory committee and coordinator.

According to the bill, the NIE would assess the current state of knowledge on environmental issues and award competitively peer-reviewed grants for research. It will establish a National Library for the Environment, with "easy to use, electronic, state -of-the art system for scientists, decision makers and the public" and sponsor education and training programs to improve scientific literacy.

In his introductory remarks, Rep. Saxton stated, "The sole mission of the NIE will be to improve the scientific basis for environmental decision-making." He continued by explaining: "That science will be used by us, the nation's lawmakers, who have been entrusted by our constituents to make the soundest environmental decisions, in their trust and their children's trust. We therefore must ensure that we do base our decisions on sound science. No politics, no interest group pressure, no lobbying. . . .just straightforward sound science by the country's best scientists. Importantly, this information will not be compiled by regulators, as the NIE is entirely a non-regulatory body . The NIE will support original scientific research, in addition to data assessment."

The bill's introduction comes on the heels of congressional passage of the fiscal year 1998 VA, HUD, & Independent Agencies appropriations bill, which contains language directing NSF to study the establishment of an NIE within it (see July update directly below). The Saxton/Abercrombie bill is entitled "Sound Science for the Environment Act," the same title used for Saxton's H.R. 2827 in the 104th Congress. The Committee for the National Institute for the Environment has released a bill summary.

Update from July 1997
Recent efforts by the Committee for the National Institute for the Environment (CNIE) to create a semi-autonomous National Institute for the Environment (NIE) within the National Science Foundation (NSF) have begun to pay off. At last week's House Appropriations Committee markup (voting) session on the Fiscal Year 1998 appropriations bill that funds NSF, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) offered an amendment to allow NSF "to study how it would establish and operate [an NIE], including the potential cost of such an institute." The amendment states that the Appropriations Committee is "very interested in the idea of establishing an institute that provides a major role for stakeholders in defining the questions needing scientific attention and which funds ongoing knowledge assessments, extramural research, on-line information dissemination, and education and training through a competitive peer reviewed process." The bill requires that NSF report to the Committee by April 1, 1998. News of this action was sent out as an e-mail special update from AGI on July 15th.

Spurred on by their success, the CNIE also sought to persuade the Senate Appropriations Committee to tack on extra money to the NSF budget for establishing the NIE rather than just studying the idea. The committee completed its action on July 17th with no apparent action with regard to an NIE.

In testimony before the VA, HUD and Independent Agencies subcommittee of the House Appropriations committee on May 1, 1997, CNIE Executive Director Peter Saundry emphasized the importance of having scientific and environmental research information separate from regulatory functions. He also asked the subcommittee to add on $20 million to $50 million to one or more scientific agencies so that NIE might be created without tapping into existing science budgets. The proposal for establishing the NIE under NSF is provided below. An interdisciplinary NIE would likely involve a number of current NSF directorates, including Geosciences, Biological Sciences, and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences.

In the last Congress, Rep. Saxton introduced H.R. 2827, the Sound Science for the Environment Act on December 21, 1995. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Science where it received no further attention, despite the support of over fifty cosponsors. The purpose of H.R. 2827 was to organize an NIE that would "consolidate and improve governmental environmental research." Under the bill, the NIE would "(1)seek to improve the scientific basis for decision-making on environmental issues by integrating the functions of knowledge assessment, research, information services, and education and training; and (2) provide national leadership in environmental science and research."

The effort to create a National Institute for the Environment was started in 1989 by Dr. Stephen Hubbell of Princeton University and Dr. Henry Haw of the University of Illinois, Chicago. The effort is based on the need for an organization that is not tied to an advocacy group, business or government agency to analyze and research environmental issues. The Committee for the NIE (CNIE) is a nonprofit organization that is leading the effort to pass legislation that would establish the NIE with the overarching goal to improve the science on which environmental decisions are based.

According to the CNIE, the NIE would perform the following activities:

The CNIE emphasizes that the NIE's role would be one of "an independent, nonregulatory federal science institute for the environment." The NIE would not create environmental policies; rather, its research would complement work done by other agencies. <


The original proposal for the NIE suggests that the "best, simplest and most cost-effective" way to establish the organization is as a new, independent agency of the federal government. The proposal also discusses two alternative options: establish the NIE as part of a new Department of the Environment or establish it as a new agency built on a base of existing federal programs. To read the original proposal, visit CNIE's website.

Despite support for establishing the NIE as a new agency, political obstacles to the idea have necessitated the development of new options. As a result, the CNIE has written a proposal where the NIE would be established under the auspices of the Nation al Science Foundation (NSF). Under this plan, all NIE functions would be performed as in the original proposal, but the NIE would obtain funding through NSF appropriations which would be supplemented by other agencies, state and local governments, and private organizations. The memorandum discussing the NSF option is provided below.

In March 1995, the AGI Environmental Geosciences Advisory Committee authored an issues paper on the role of earth sciences in the NIE. According to the committee, the study of environmental issues is inherently interdisciplinary, thus requiring the inclusion of earth sciences in the NIE. The paper emphasizes the important role that the Earth sciences play in several critical environmental issues. For more information, you can also read a Geotimes "Political Scene" column on Establishing a National Institute for the Environment (4/96).

Sources: Committee for the National Institute for the Environment, Journal of Environmental Education

Discussion Memorandum on Establishing the National Institute for the Environment as a Chartered Institution under the National Science Foundation

This discussion paper considers the possibility of establishing a National Institute for the Environment (NIE) under the auspices of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Under this option, all of the NIE principles (nonregulatory, extramural science wit h significant stakeholder involvement) and integrated functions (assessment, research, information, and education) would be carried out as proposed in the original NIE proposal. The value-added would be association with the scientific excellence of the NS F and the opportunity to bring this excellence to bear on environmental issues that are often too applied or multidisciplinary for traditional NSF approaches. A core budget would come through the appropriation for the NSF, but would be supplemented by funds obtained from other agencies, state and local government and private organizations, subject to certain constraints. All efforts should be made to protect NSF's existing budget.

The Committee for the National Institute for the Environment (CNIE) continues to consider different ways for establishing the National Institute for the Environment (NIE) and implementing the principles that are embodied in the initiative.

The NSF-associated option is popular because it would retain the key desirable features of NIE - a non-regulatory home for integrated science for the environment, important roles for stakeholders, and the ability to work with the full range of federal agencies and their partners in state, local and tribal government, business and nongovernmental organizations. In addition, it would link the NIE to the reputation of scientific excellence, impartiality and cost-effectiveness that NSF has rightfully earned. The option also helps to avoid one of the biggest concerns about the NIE proposal - that it would add a new agency to the federal government at a time of government reduction. Establishing NIE as a "quasi-federal institute" would give the NIE considerable flexibility and allow it to accomplish its goals without increasing the federal work force.

Many people commented that it would be good for NSF to have an NIE associated with it. Among the advantages for NSF are: a way to deal with environmental issues that are often too applied or multidisciplinary for traditional NSF approaches, an opportunity to benefit from the increasing interest in science for the environment, and a way to expand the constituency interested in NSF and its activities. Most respondents felt that a separate institute established under NSF would be far less disruptive than simply charging NSF with carrying out the functions of the NIE, such as by establishing a new directorate within NSF. It was cautioned that while establishing an NIE provides considerable long term opportunity for NSF, establishment must not incur even short term financial costs to NSF. The CNIE concurs with this view fully.

Establishing the NIE as a "quasi-federal institute" under or through the NSF appears to be a feasible option. The NSF has the statutory authority to establish and support scientific centers outside the federal government and, indeed, supports numerous centers at this time. While the NIE would be a different kind of entity that any currently supported by the NSF in terms of scope of activities, stakeholder involvement, and budget, many lessons can be learned from existing NSF-supported centers and from the National Science Foundation itself.

Many crucial issues would need to be addressed for this approach to the NIE to be implemented. Some are touched upon in this memorandum, many others are not and should be raised in further discussion about the idea.

The National Institute for the Environment as a chartered institution under the National Science Foundation
The National Institute for the Environment would be established by a charter included in an Act of Congress either as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization or as a quasi-governmental corporation composed of a stakeholder governing board (discussed below) an d a director. It would have a mission to improve the scientific basis for making decisions on environmental issues.

A congressional charter, while not essential for starting an NIE under the National Science Foundation, would be important to provide the NIE with legitimacy and stature. The NIE charter would detail its governance, the integrated functions of knowledge assessment, peer-reviewed extramural research, information dissemination, and education and training, and operational procedures.

A detailed discussion of the National Institute for the Environment proposal has been published by the Committee for the NIE. This memo includes only a brief outline of that proposal (see Appendix). Three important points should be stressed: [1] the NIE would be an science funding body, [2] it would have no regulatory powers, and [3] it would not require its own research facilities. You will recall that the core principles on the NIE proposal are:

Funding for the NIE under this option would occur under a cooperative agreement or grant with or from the NSF. The NSF would provide scientific and fiscal oversight and quality control. The NSF might also play a very involved role in the establishment and initial operations of the NIE (discussed more below). The NIE would also be able to receive funding from other federal agencies and nonfederal sources, subject to certain constraints.

The NIE's science agenda
NIE would provide a scientific approach to environmental issues of broad national and regional importance. The governing board would set priorities based on input from nonfederal stakeholders in the private and public sector and from federal agencies. The NIE would be organized around environmental issues, rather than scientific disciplines and would fund whatever combination of disciplines and whatever mix of basic and applied science that is relevant to the problem. Its general purview would be topics t hat are too long-term and too cross-cutting to fall within the jurisdiction of any single agency. Both the approach to problem-identification and types of issues addressed would be different than the typical approach within the NSF. In addition, NIE would undertake activities to synthesize and distribute information for non-technical audiences that are often not served directly by NSF-supported science.

The NIE project cycle would begin with on-going assessments of the state of scientific knowledge regarding the priority issues identified by the governing board. These assessments would, among other things, identify related science needs. Depending on the maturity of the science related to the issue, a mix of basic and applied research would be defined and funded by the NIE alone or in cooperation with other agencies and institutions (subject to funding availability).

The NIE's approach to science would likely lead to a dynamic interplay between NSF and the NIE. The NIE would provide NSF with a vehicle to fund (or pass off) science and education that is too applied or too interdisciplinary to fit neatly within the p resent NSF. It also will provide an opportunity for NSF to protect existing disciplinary science by not having money siphoned off for problem-driven research.

It may be appropriate for the NIE and NSF to provide joint funding for certain topics of mutual interest. NSF may also decide that some topics (e.g. applied conservation biology) are more in the NIE purview and thus cease to fund those topics out of it s disciplinary directorates. Similarly the NIE may recognize that the basic research needs for an environmental issue are large (e.g. mechanisms by which a cell takes up toxicants) and therefore encourage NSF to fund additional basic research in that area . There would also be a need to sort out responsibilities in the education and human resources, with the primary distinction being that NIE would support educational activities in a range of interdisciplinary and more applied fields than NSF traditionally supports.

The Role of the National Science Foundation
NSF would oversee the initial process of establishment of the Institute, the creation of its governing board and facilitating the process by which a management organization comes into place (be it by competitive grant, contract or cooperative agreement). Administrative funds from the NIE should be provided to reimburse NSF's administrative costs for these activities. The NIE governing board and director would ultimately be responsible for hiring a staff to manage the day-to-day affairs of the organization . Initial NSF assistance might include providing personnel to develop and implement programs for the NIE's stakeholder board and Director -- acting as the initial NIE staff. However, a competitive award to an organization that would manage the NIE operations may be preferable.

NSF would provide oversight for the NIE by [1] assuring accountability to financial and scientific standards in the way that it does for National Center for Atmospheric Research and smaller centers (i.e. assign program officer liaison and provide audit s); and [2] assessing results from a standpoint of scientific quality using established procedures of institutional review. Consistent with a peer-review philosophy, the NIE should convene evaluation panels for itself and its programs in order to maximize the quality of its work. (Note that, in addition to NSF oversight, both Houses of the Congress would have oversight roles through the NSF and the appropriations process. Should the NIE depart from its intended purposes, federal funding for its activities would be withdrawn.)

The National Science Board might recommend members of the NIE governing board, which would likely be appointed by the President. It may be desirable for one or more members of NSB to serve on the governing board if this does not create a conflict of interest.

Setting of goals and priorities would be done by the NIE's governing board in conjunction with its interagency advisory body. NSF would be represented on the interagency advisory body.

There would be an expectation of a continuing core budget provided through the NSF budget, but in a separate line item. All efforts should be made to protect NSF's existing budget.

The NIE's budget line would be under the NSF budget and it would receive funding as a grant from that agency. Ensuring that NSF's existing budget is not adversely affected by the establishment of the NIE under its auspices will be a challenging and political issue. CNIE recognizes that this is likely to be a concern about this approach to the NIE. The CNIE is committed to a position that the existing NSF budget not be reduced to provide funding for the NIE. A distinct line in NSF's budget might help protect both the NIE and NSF's existing programs.

The NIE would be authorized to receive additional funding from "mission" agencies and other sources (state and local governments, business, foundations, etc.). This would pose a challenge for the NIE to balance its own goals and objectives with those providing funds. Credibility would be enhanced if non-federal money were required to be matched with federal money. The NIE Board would need to establish firm guidelines as how to determine that such funds would not compromise the integrity of the Institute.

Stakeholder governance and guidance of the NIE is central to its success. Individuals representing the diverse stakeholder communities should be chosen to broaden and deepen the NIE perspective, not as advocates of particular ideologies. The NIE under the NSF would have a stakeholder governing board with a method of appointment defined in its charter.

Once chartered, the NIE governing board members could be appointed by the President. Most likely, the President would make nominations (chosen by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy with input from organizations such as the Committee for the NIE, the National Academy of Sciences and others) and nominees would go through a Senate confirmation process. The Director of the Institute would be selected and approved through the same process. Members of the Board would serve pro-bono and b e compensated for expenses only. Members would serve long overlapping terms (six years terms, a third appointed every two years).

It will be essential that whatever the board appointment process, it is not seen as politically motivated, but broadly inclusive and nonpartisan.

Provisions within the NIE charter mandating and guiding strong ties with federal environmental agencies and departments (discussed below) may include ex officio membership on the governing board for representatives of federal agencies or establishment of a federal advisory board.

Initially, the National Science Foundation might play a role in establishing the governing board with input from groups such as CNIE, NAS and others.

Relationship to federal agencies
The NIE must have strong presence and connection with the government for it to have significant impact on environmental decisionmaking. The charter would provide for a partnership role for federal agencies, either through ex officio membership on the governing board or through a federal advisory body that works closely with the governing board. One advantage of quasi-federal or public-private status is that it would allow federal officials to serve jointly with non-federal people without being subject to the federal advisory committee act.

This relationship can be strengthened through a strong charter that spells out clear opportunities for partnership with federal agencies. Financial and intellectual incentives, as well as opportunities for substantive input will be important to existing agencies.

Agencies have much to gain from the creation of the NIE. This includes:

In addition, the NIE can be an extremely powerful tool for federal agencies to enter into partnerships with other agencies, states and local governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations. These organizations can pool money and use the NIE as a vehicle to provide highly credible science through its peer-review processes. NIE can serve as a "neutral playing field" without a political mission or agenda, bringing together agencies and organizations that do not have a history of working together in a congenial fashion and allowing them to support science that could reduce public controversies. Much of the stability of the relationship between NIE and the agencies will be determined by the structure of NIE and its federal advisory board. This relationship should build upon the work of the interagency Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR). Indeed CENR may be the federal advisory board for NIE, and the chairs of CENR might have seats on the NIE governing board. Thus the NIE would b e a way to implement CENR initiatives without having to go through each agency and each separate appropriation to piece together a research program.

Additional Considerations For NSF
New and additional support may accrue to the National Science Foundation as a result of the NIE's existence. The constituency that supports the creation of the National Institute for the Environment is more diverse that the traditional constituency for the NSF. It includes state and local government, NGOs, chambers of commerce and other corporate associations, and other communities affected by environmental decisionmaking. By increasing the breadth of communities associated with an NSF- affiliated institution, the NIE initiative would help increase NSF's constituency, potentially leading to funding and other benefits for the Foundation as a whole.

If desired, the NIE, when operational and successful may be spun off from the NSF and reconstituted as stand-alone institution. This would be necessary if the NIE budget grew to a point where it had negative impacts on the parent agency (NSF) or if it were decided that the NIE would be more effective without association with NSF.

Appendix: Summary Of The National Institute For The Environment Proposal

MISSION: To improve the Scientific basis for making decisions on environmental issues

GOVERNANCE: A board of governors with authority to establish the policies and priorities for the Institute would be constituted and selected to represent the widest range of stakeholders in the activities of the NIE, including researchers, knowledge users, and the public. Governors would serve long overlapping terms (six years or greater). A federal role would be spelled out through an Interagency Advisory Committee as well as possibly ex officio seats on the governing board.

STAKEHOLDERS: The involvement of non-research community stakeholders in all NIE activities would help:

FUNCTIONS: The functions of the NIE should include:

Knowledge assessments will evaluate the state of scientific knowledge on environmental issues -- what is known, not known, issues which most scientists agree upon, issues which are still contentious, key questions that need addressing -- and its significance to environmental policy options, identify research needed to improve decision-making on environmental issues, and communicate this information to those who need it in government, industry, academia, and elsewhere, as well as to the general public. Knowledge assessments would be implemented on an on-going basis.

The NIE assessment process will be guided by the diverse stakeholders in environmental issues -- including scientists, policy experts, and representatives of business and industry, environmental groups, state and local government, affected communities, the public and representatives of federal agencies.

Assessment activities could be implemented through grants to the National Academy of Sciences and other entities distinct from the NIE or through an NIE Office for Environmental Assessment with a core staff of analytical and policy experts with the heavy involvement external individuals with relevant expertise and representing diverse perspectives. All NIE assessments would be reviewed for technical accuracy, objectivity, and relevance.

The hallmark of NIE research would be a problem-focused, largely interdisciplinary approach that would bring the skills of researchers in all relevant disciplines to bear on problems. NIE-sponsored research in the traditional academic disciplines within the biological, social, and physical sciences, engineering and the humanities would be complemented by research that links understanding of the environment to the possible solutions to environmental problems. This would mean fully integrating the human, economic, and technological aspects of environmental issues into NIE research.

NIE research would be implemented through three broad themes that are intrinsically multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary and promote a high level of interaction among investigators from traditional disciplines. The NIE would recognize, on an operational level, that these themes are highly interactive. A Board of Environmental Research would oversee activities and ensure that interaction occurs. The three themes are:

The implementation processes would be carried out with input from both knowledge generators (such as scientists) and knowledge users (such as decisionmakers, policy analysts, resource managers, and the public) to ensure that technical merit, appropriate interdisciplinary approaches, and relevance are incorporated into NIE research choices.

The NIE would provide information services through a National Library for the Environment. The ability to access and assess environmental information would be established through the combined use of technology, services, products, existing organization s and systems, and information specialists organized into an environmental information infrastructure. The Library would facilitate:

The Library would provide a virtual National Environmental Information Infrastructure linking and synthesizing individual environmental information systems.

The NIE would support education, training, and outreach through an education and training office and throughout its research activities. The NIE would emphasize:

NIE's education and training support would be based on an assessment of the nation's needs for environmentally educated scientists, engineers and other citizens and on the means best to fill these needs.

Bill Summary of the Sound Science for the Environment Act

Provided by the Committee for the National Institute for the Environment

OUTLINE of the Sound Science for the Environment Act to ESTABLISH the NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

This outline describes legislation to create a National Institute for the Environment (NIE), with the mission to improve the scientific basis for decision-making on environmental issues, & for other purposes.

Section 1. Short title: the "Sound Science for the Environment Act."

Section 2. Findings: The Congress finds the following:

-- A healthy environment is essential to an enhanced quality of life, a competitive economy, & national security.

-- The United States lacks an effective mechanism for providing & communicating a comprehensive, objective & credible scientific understanding of environmental issues in a timely manner to policy-makers & the public.

-- An appropriate understanding of the diverse scientific issues that underlie the environmental problems facing the United States is essential to finding environmentally & economically sound solutions to these problems.

-- To be useful, this understanding requires the integration of ongoing assessments of the state of scientific knowledge with credible problem-focused research, the communication of scientific information, & the appropriate education & training of environmental scientists, engineers, & other professionals.

-- These scientific activities are best carried out through a neutral, institution without regulatory responsibilities, where the public & private organizations and individuals can establish a shared understanding of the state of scientific knowledge on environmental issues, & support research, education, and information exchange to expand and spread the state of knowledge.

-- A National Institute for the Environment will allow the Nation to more effectively use science to improve environmental decisionmaking, thereby reducing costs and saving lives.

Section 3. Purpose: Create an institute to improve the scientific basis for decision-making on environmental issues by integrating the functions of knowledge assessment, research, information services, education & training, provide national leaders hip in environment science and research, and facilitate the sharing of public and private resources to enhance understanding and communication of scientific knowledge about the environment.

Section 4. Establishment: Authorizes and directs the National Science Foundation to establish a National Institute for the Environment with a mission to improve the scientific basis for decisionmaking on environmental issues. Directs that management of the Institute be awarded competitively.

Section 5. Duties & Functions: Sets the duties of the Institute to:

1. Initiate, facilitate, & where appropriate perform assessments of the current state of knowledge of environmental issues & their implications;

2. Award competitively peer-reviewed grants & where appropriate, contracts, for extramural scientific research;

3. Establish a National Library for the Environment as a universally accessible, easy to use, electronic, state-of-the-art information system for scientists, decisionmakers, & the public;

4. Sponsor education & training of environmental scientists & professionals & improve public environmental literacy.

Section 6. Governing board: Establishes a Governing Board composed of 18 members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, which shall establish goals, priorities, & policies of the Institute, & will include approximately equal numbers of scientists & users of scientific information on the environment. Ensures diverse composition including representation of States, academic institutions, business, labor, environmental groups, other citizens groups, women & minority groups. Ensures geographic diversity. Provides for 6-year terms of office in order to provide stability. Designates one member of the National Science Board to serve on the Governing Board.

Section 7. Management and Staff: Provides for a Director, Assistant Directors, & staff. Directs that the Institute be operated by a non-profit organization under contract with NSF.

Section 8. Relation with National Science Board. Directs the National Science Board to recommend names for the Governing Board and to approve selection of the Director.

Section 9. Cooperation with Agencies: The Institute may acquire any unclassified data & non-proprietary knowledge possessed by Federal agencies. The Institute shall cooperate with the agencies to ensure that the information & products of the Institute are useful & accessible to the agencies.

Section 10. Interagency Advisory Committee: Directs the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources of the National Science and Technology Council or an equivalent body to serve as an interagency advisory committee, to ensure that the efforts of the Institute & Federal agencies are complementary.

Section 11. Grants, contracts, & other authorities: Provides the Institute with the same authority as NSF to enter into financial arrangements, including competitively awarded grants, loans, cooperative agreements, & contracts to institutions, teams, & centers, after rigorous peer-review. States that scientists, engineers, & other researchers should be able to receive funding regardless of whether they are from government or private sector institutions. Allows the Institute to receive funds from Federal agencies, states, & private sector institutions to carry out particular projects & activities, subject to guidelines established by the Board. Directs that funds provided not be used to reduce amounts available to the Institute from appropriations.

Section 12. Authorization of appropriations. Authorizes such sums as may be necessary to NSF to be transferred to the Institute. Prohibits funds of NSF from being transferred

Section 13. Definitions.

-- Environmental sciences- the full range of fields of study including biological, physical, chemical, geological, & social sciences, engineering, & humanities, relevant to the understanding of environmental problems -- Scientist- practitioner of science relevant to the environment -- Decisionmakers- elected or appointed officials of Federal, State, tribal, & local governments & similar individuals in the private sector.

Sources: Committee for A National Institute for the Environment; Library of Congress

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Stephanie Barrett, David Applegate, and Kasey Shewey White, AGI Government Affairs
Posted July 18, 1997; Last Updated September 22, 1998

  Information Services |Geoscience Education |Public Policy |Environmental
Publications |Workforce |AGI Events

agi logo

© 2016 All rights reserved. American Geological Institute, 4220 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22302-1502.
Please send any comments or problems with this site to:
Privacy Policy