Monday, June 23, 2008

White House Launches Another Environmental Indicators Initiative

Jun 17: The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy directed Federal agencies to begin developing a set of national environmental indicators and to kick off a major pilot project in this area. According to an announcement from CEQ National Environmental Status and Trends (NEST) indicators are envisioned as high quality, scientifically based statistical measures of selected conditions of our environment and natural resources that will facilitate public discourse and decision-making. They will be used by Federal decision makers, other partners and stakeholders, and the public to analyze national trends and assess the impact of national programs on the Nation's environment and natural resources.

The pilot project announced will focus on producing consistent, regularly recurring indicators in the area of water quantity and quality. The NEST pilot will demonstrate collaborative interagency processes and provide a forum to engage the public in the identification of questions that should be addressed by the indicators. CEQ Chairman James Connaughton said, "Our Nation will benefit from a consistent set of indicators for our environment and natural resources. Most NEST indicators will be produced from data collected by ongoing Federal and State programs. This action plan will improve the quality and uniformity of those data to provide nationally consistent, and more widely accessible, indicators."

Clay Johnson, Deputy Director for Management, Office of Management and Budget said, "High-quality, statistical measures of conditions and trends are important indicators of the effectiveness of government policies and programs. We currently lack consistent information on the environment and natural resources to analyze national trends. We sought the advice of the National Academy of Public Administration on the best way to move forward, and this action is based on their recommendations." Dr. John H. Marburger III, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy said, "The science community has pilot-tested several approaches to national reporting on environmental conditions over the past decade. For example, the project The State of the Nation's Ecosystems conducted for the government by the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, produced a useful, credible set of indicators. But we need to go farther, and the development of such national indicators is a Federal responsibility. So we are moving now to the next level."

Interestingly, the announcement came on the same day that the Heinz Center released its latest, The State of the Nation's Ecosystems 2008 report. A companion report calls for bold federal and state action to strengthen and integrate the nation’s environmental monitoring. Also, the White House announcement did not mention the May 20, release by EPA of its 2008 Report on the Environment (EPA 2008 ROE) [See WIMS 5/20/08], which it called "an important resource that citizens can use to better understand trends in the condition of the air, water, and land and related changes in human health and the environment in the United States." and "a valuable resource that can inform and focus EPA activities to improve and protect America’s environment." The EPA ROE is a major document that follows a lengthy development process that began in 2003, and a public comment period last year [
See WIMS 5/10/07]. EPA says "the 2008 ROE uses scientifically sound indicators to measure and report on overall progress toward protecting the environment and human health."

On June 2, the three White House agencies sent a letter and policy memorandum to agency and department heads indicating that, "We will begin with a pilot project conducted by Federal agencies in collaboration with their non-Federal partners on national status and trend indicators of water availability, including both quantity and quality. The pilot project is designed to test the vision for the NEST Indicators. It will demonstrate the collaborative interagency processes that will be used to select and implement indicators and will improve the consistency and interoperability of data. In addition, a national forum will be convened to identify the topics and questions that should be addressed by the indicators of water availability. The U.S. Forest Service has agreed to lead an Executive Management Team that will guide the pilot project."

In a second phase of the initiative, Federal agencies will work together through an Executive Management Team to convene a national forum on fresh water availability. indicators.The national forum will have broad representation from multiple levels of government and from all affected sectors. Forum participants will identify policy-relevant questions that frame national, cross-cutting concerns as well as regional, state and local concerns for which statistically rigorous, nationally comparable indicators would inform analyses and decision-making at multiple levels of government and across sectors.

According to the policy memo, various Federal Agencies will coordinate their observation and monitoring activities through the subcommittees of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). Federal agencies will work together through CENR subcommittees to identify key observations required to provide the consistent statistical basis for the NEST Indicators pilot project.

The State of the Nation’s Ecosystems 2008, announced by the Heinz Center shows that the acreage burned every year by wildfires is increasing, non-native fish have invaded nearly every watershed in the lower 48 states, and chemical contaminants are found in virtually all streams and most groundwater wells, often at levels above those set to protect human health or wildlife. In contrast, ecosystems are increasing their storage of carbon, there are improvements in soil quality and crop yields have grown significantly. The companion policy report, Environmental Information: Roadmap to the Future, notes critical gaps in environmental information and highlights the management challenges. Key recommendations in the Roadmap report urge Congress to establish a national environmental indicator initiative, guided by the federal government, states, the private sector, environmental organizations, universities, and others. This effort would link national indicators with information used by local, state, corporate, and other decision makers, and drive an agenda for improving data collection and reporting.

The Roadmap suggests that the executive branch build on the work of the Heinz Center and others to maintain momentum while Congress moves forward, establish internal processes to improve federal data coordination, and expand dialogue among the many users and providers of needed environmental information. The companion report also suggests that Congress and the executive branch provide additional support for monitoring and related activities and that states demonstrate a heightened commitment to providing the information needed by state, local, and other decision makers to improve the state of the nation’s ecosystems.

Access a release from CEQ (
click here). Access the letter and policy memorandum (click here). Access the NSTC website for additional information (click here). Access EPA's ROE website with links to the complete document and presentations of data by Regions (click here). Access EPA's ROE 2008 Project Summary website for additional information (click here). Access a release from the Heinz Center (click here). Access summary information and details on obtaining the complete Ecosystem 2008 report and links to the complete 104-page Heinz Roadmap report (click here). [*All]

1 comment:

Vicki Elmer said...

This is a much needed venture. I hope, however, that these indicators will be combined with ones that reflect the metabolism of the urban areas as well.