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As Congress Slashes EPA Budget, Research Least Harmed

Science and technology at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be sliced 3.9%, to $815 million, under the new budget for FY 2011. That's a deeper cut than at other agencies, but far less than EPA as a whole: The $10 billion agency will have to cut 16% of its budget.

The budget cut renews worries about continued erosion of research at the agency, particularly in ecosystem health. Between FY 2004 and FY 2008, the overall S&T budget fell 20%. Environmental and public health scientists cheered when the research budget increased in FY 2009 and FY 2010. But faced with a continued recession and a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, President Barack Obama proposed a 2.5% reduction (from FY 2010) to $826 million for the FY 2012 budget.

"If the agency doesn't make adequate research investments, it just won't be in the position to deal with new and emerging environmental problems," says M. Granger Morgan of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Deborah Swackhamer, chair of EPA's Science Advisory Board, says EPA may be able to gain some efficiencies by accelerating a reorganization of its research, in which 16 categories in its national program are being realigned into six. But the cut will certainly still cause pain, she says. "It will slow down the agency in terms of science progress," says Swackhamer

In a statement, EPA said it was analyzing the impact of the budget cuts: "We understand the need to make difficult decisions to ensure the government lives within its means."