Axion Power to supply PbC mini Power Cube in Zero Energy Building in Washington DC Naval Yard
WVU Center develops electric drive and alternative fuel vehicle smart phone app and training program for first responders

Dr. Paul Anastas outlines EPA’s new research paradigm, The Path Forward; realigning EPA research around sustainability

Former and realigned EPA research programs and strategic goals. Credit: ACS, Anastas 2012. Click to enlarge.

In a paper published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, Dr. Paul Anastas, Science Advisor to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as the Agency’s Assistant Administrator for Research and Development, outlines the principles of the EPA’s new research paradigm called “The Path Forward”, as well as the actions taken since 2010 to align EPA’s research efforts with the goal of sustainability.

Dr. Anastas, appointed to the EPA by President Obama, is known widely as the “Father of Green Chemistry” for his groundbreaking work on the design and manufacture of chemicals that are nonhazardous and environmentally benign. Anastas is currently on public service leave from Yale University, where he holds the Theresa and H. John Heinz chair in Chemistry for the Environment and Directs the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.

Since 2010, significant changes have been made to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) research enterprise. All of EPA’s actions and decisions are based on science and research. Whether it is crisis response, chemical assessment, or regulatory decision making—none of the Agency’s work to protect human health and the environment would be possible without the data, tools, science, and information provided by its researchers and the broader scientific community. The Agency has recently undertaken a major effort to realign its research portfolio in order to more effectively address pressing environmental challenges and better serve the Agency’s decision making functions into the future.

...Unlike visible air pollution, rivers ablaze, and other egregious pollution problems faced decades ago, today’s environmental challenges are increasingly subtle and complex. Interconnected issues such as environmental justice, global change, and endocrine disruption are rapidly becoming part of the environmental protection landscape. Fortunately, our state of scientific knowledge and technological capabilities are also evolving quickly. Advanced methods like computational toxicology, remote sensing, and high throughput chemical screening have given us new insights into the linkages between environmental, economic, and social systems and a new awareness of widespread global challenges.

To be truly effective, EPA’s environmental research must evolve along with these new insights and be as dynamic as the challenges it aims to inform. Recognizing this as a priority, in 2010 the Agency’s Office of Research and Development embarked on a series of steps to advance the evolution of its research programs. These steps are known collectively as the Path Forward for EPA research.

—Paul Anastas

EPA traditionally has taken a risk assessment and management approach to conducting its scientific work, Anastas noted. However, the Agency now is systematically realigning its entire research enterprise around the concept of sustainability.

For EPA research, The Path Forward represents a new paradigm that builds upon risk with the tools of sustainability—but it does not diminish EPA’s traditional risk-based approaches. This distinction has been characterized as “the difference between treating disease and pursuing wellness,” and reflects the continued importance of understanding and managing risk in a way that supports, informs and advances the ultimate goal of sustainability.

—Paul Anastas

Key principles of the Path Forward include:

  • Taking a systems perspective. By considering systems both within their local contexts and across entire life cycles, scientists have the best chance of designing sustainable solutions to environmental problems that are resilient and do not lead to unintended consequences, Anastas said.

  • Integrated trans-disciplinary research. Truly integrated research means seeking out collaborations that go beyond multiple scientific departments or laboratories by incorporating expertise and perspectives from multiple sectors.

  • Solutions. The Path Forward calls for a new emphasis on the application of EPA’s expertise in problem assessment to the development, creation, invention, and innovation of environmental solutions.

  • Acting as a catalyst. EPA’s efforts are insufficient to meet the grand environmental and human health challenges faced today, Anastas noted. In every project, program, grant, assessment, and report, the Agency must consider how its efforts will inform and empower the broader environmental protection community.

  • Relevant, responsive, rapid research. Excellent research that is not useful or usable is not excellent, Anastas asserted.

    All of EPA’s research efforts—from over-the-horizon research, to targeted, problem-specific research, to technical support—must be designed to effectively meet the needs of those who use and depend upon it.

  • Impact. Excellent work, done invisibly, cannot have impact, Anastas said. Communication must be an essential part of scientific work.

    It is the responsibility of the scientific community to ensure that the data and observations we collect are able to be transformed into knowledge and insight that can be used by others in designing the products, processes, and systems of tomorrow.The only way to accomplish this is to become objective and unrelenting communicators.

  • Innovation. Major challenges faced today cannot be adequately solved by incremental solutions, Anastas said; to make real progress, transformative innovations are needed. In the absence of innovation, EPA’s mission cannot be achieved.

    ...perhaps the most important task is recognizing that the age-old myth that economic and environmental goals exist in opposition is not only false, but dangerous. This misconception has pervaded the public consciousness and stands squarely in the way of progress toward a healthier, more sustainable environment...Scientists must recognize the power of innovation to build a sustainable environment and strong economy simultaneously.

Since March 2010, Anastas said, EPA’s Office of Research and Development has evolved in alignment with the above principles, with the most significant step being the strategic realignment of Agency research efforts around the concept of sustainability.

In addition, EPA has reduced its 13 relatively isolated research programs to six fully integrated areas, all in alignment with the strategic priorities. The realigned research portfolio includes four fully integrated, trans-disciplinary programs and two highly targeted programs:

  1. Air, Climate, and Energy (ACE). The ACE program will continue to provide the science that informs national ambient air quality standards and build upon ongoing efforts in the areas of multi-pollutant mixtures, air emissions, and measurements in a way that integrates climate and energy considerations. The program will also seek to understand how future changes in the energy scheme might impact efforts to protect human health and the environment.

  2. Chemical Safety for Sustainability (CSS). The CSS research program is focused on developing scientific tools for integrated chemical evaluation strategies, improving chemical assessment methods and informing next generation risk assessment approaches.

  3. Safe and Healthy Communities (SHC). The SHC program is organized around three broad themes: working with communities to develop sustainability approaches; developing decision analysis, methods, tools, and metrics to support sustainability in communities; and targeting high priority research needs.

  4. Safe and Sustainable Water Resources (SSWR). EPA has integrated its formerly separated programs on Drinking Water and Water Quality into a unified, sustainability-oriented program. Researchers in the SSWR program will focus on providing sound science to inform faster, smarter water resources management decisions for present-day problems and conduct science to inform proactive approaches to problems of the future.

  5. Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA). Human health risk assessment is applicable to all of EPA’s realigned research areas. The functions of the HHRA program will support needs across the other research areas but are also targeted to meet more specific Agency needs.

  6. Homeland Security Research Program (HSRP). The HSRP program has a focused, well-defined, mission of informing the science and technology for prevention and response to security threats, and will incorporate sustainability and systems thinking into its research and activities wherever possible.

EPA has obtained obtaining external validation from its Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC). In addition, EPA has commissioned a study from the National Research Council entitled “Science for EPA’s Future”.

The Agency has also taken several steps on the Path Forward to foster, encourage, and incentivize innovation among EPA scientists and within the Agency’s external partnerships, including the appointment of a Chief Inovation Officer for the Office of Research and Development (Dr. Peter Preuss).

The Path Forward calls for agility, continuous improvement, refinement, and perseverance to meet dynamic challenges and changing needs. In this regard, the Agency’s work on the Path Forward will be an on-going is not a new program, project, or initiative; it is simply a part of the EPA’s continuing obligation to ensure it uses the best science and pursues the most effective ways of accomplishing its mission to protect human health and the environment.

—Paul Anastas


  • Paul T. Anastas (2012) Fundamental Changes to EPA’s Research Enterprise: The Path Forward. Environmental Science & Technology doi: 10.1021/es203881e



Protecting America's drinking waters with 1+ million deep frackings and injection of used waters and chemicals creating a multitude pf local earth quakes could become a major endeavor.

The quest for more low cost energy and profits may be stronger than the desire to protect fresh water.


"...he holds the Theresa and H. John Heinz chair in Chemistry for the Environment and Directs the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.'

I like appointing the best and brightest, not the oil patch buddies that raised the most campaign money for you.

The comments to this entry are closed.