Climate Change Omitted from List of EPA Research Objectives

On October 24, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a draft “Air and Energy Strategic Research Action Plan” (Action Plan) for the period from 2019 to 2022. The Action Plan identifies research needed to “address[] EPA priorities and mandates” with respect to air pollution. Unlike previous versions, adopted during the Obama administration, the Action Plan does not list “prepar[ing] for and respond[ing] to changes in climate” as a “research objective.”

If finalized, the Action Plan would replace the “Air, Climate, and Energy Strategic Research Action Plan,” adopted in November 2015. That document listed three key research objectives, including:

“Prepare for and Respond to Changes in Climate and Air Quality—Provide human exposure and environmental modeling, monitoring, metrics and information needed by individuals, communities, and governmental agencies to take action to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change, and make public health decisions regarding air quality.”

That objective has been removed from the 2019-2022 Action Plan. The plan does, however, call for “developing and implementing research activities” on “extreme events and emerging risks.” In discussing the need for research in this area, the plan states:

“It is clear from recent experience that future conditions are not likely to mirror those observed in the past. Environmental conditions are changing, as we have seen with increases in drought, extreme precipitation events (as experienced in Houston in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey), and more and higher high-temperature events. These are outside the range experienced in the past, whether in frequency, magnitude, or both, and such conditions are increasingly likely to become the norm. The United States’ dynamic economy and past successes in reducing emissions mean that future air pollutant types and sources of concern will change as technologies are developed and deployed.

Changes in atmospheric emissions and concentrations affect air quality, water quality (through deposition and changes in precipitation patterns), flood and fire frequency and magnitude, and coastal and forest ecosystems. These changes can affect air quality management effectiveness, vulnerabilities of water treatment and waste management infrastructure, and, ultimately, public health and ecosystems. The focus of the . . . Research Program on these issues is to improve and expand our understanding of the potential long-term connections between changes in atmospheric emissions and composition on these and other outcomes of importance to environmental protection.”