Exploratory Research to Anticipate Future Environmental Issues
FY 2000 Science To Achieve Results (STAR)Program

Opening Date: February 14,2000
Closing Date: July 6, 2000

Part 1: Exploratory Research on "Biopollution
Part 2: Futures Research in Natural Sciences
Part 3: Futures Research in Sustainability: Regional Scale Assessments
Standard Instructions for Submitting an Application

Get Forms and Instructions


To support the mission of EPA to protect human health and the environment,the Agency must have a base of sound science. Research conducted under the STAR program is an important mechanism for promoting a sound scientific foundation for environmental protection, one that addresses current problems and anticipates future problems. One of the approaches under STAR to build this foundation is the issuance of requests for applications (RFAs) for research that addresses gaps in today's science and engineering knowledge.A second approach is to allow open, investigator-initiated projects which apply new, novel, and highly innovative approaches to address environmental issues or the scientific or engineering principles that underlie them. The three parts of this solicitation which follow combine these approaches.

The question often arises whether potential environmental problems can be predicted or detected before they occur so that preventive or remedial actions can be started before the issue becomes serious. Early awareness of an environmental problem should result in the ability to cope with a less serious problem, one easier and cheaper to handle. The possibility of early detection of environmental problems was the subject of the Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board's 1995 report, Beyond the Horizon: Using Foresight to Protect the Environmental Future. The report discussed why thinking about the future is important, possible systems of inquiry,and recommended that "...EPA should move towards using futures research and analysis in its programs and activities, particularly strategic planning and budgeting...." Specifically:

"As much attention should be given to avoiding future problems as to controlling current ones," and

"EPA should establish a strong environmental futures capability that serves as an early warning system for emerging environmental problems."

Our objective in this announcement is to support innovative, and possibly high risk, research that may help define and understand significant emerging environmental problems. We seek novel approaches that can lead to significant breakthroughs which provide enhanced environmental benefit.

This solicitation combines two former EPA STAR program areas, Exploratory Research and Futures: Detecting the Early Signals. The emphases in this new program combine features of both,and provides mechanisms for both identifying a problem and conductingresearch to solve it. Applications which are more appropriately responsive to other Fiscal Year 2000 NCER RFAs should not be submitted to this competition and will not be considered.


Part 1: Exploratory Research on "Biopollution"

Applications are solicited for research on "biopollution."For the purposes of this solicitation, we are defining biopollution asa large population of organisms out of place in space or time, or any population of organisms without normal controls on its reproduction. This might include, for example, problems associated with invasive species, gene transfer in the environment, or the hybridization of formerly isolated subspecies or strains.

Examples of possible areas of research are suggested below. These are for guidance only; other environmental problems and novel approaches to those problems may be addressed as long as they fit the above definition of biopollution. The examples are:

Invasive species cannot usually be considered pollutants in their native habitats, but when transplanted, the normal ecological controls on their reproduction are removed. Species in the new habitat may not have the plasticity to check the reproduction of the new organisms, and then the invading species becomes a problem (especially because their ability to colonize new areas often points to high genetic or phenotypic plasticity, which would theoretically allow them to keep up or surpass any selection for competitiveness in native species);

A population out of place in time exerting abnormal reproductive constraints on another species would occur, for example, when global warming causes a migratory bird species to appear in a region earlier in the year than it usually does, interfering with the spring time reproduction of an insect species by eating the larvae that previously enjoyed a window free from predation;

The blurring of salmon id subspecies in the western US in recent years resulted with the advent of salmon id farming. In th e past there were many distinct and geographically isolated breeding populations,but these stocks are being genetically mixed to prevent inbreeding and are often released. The result is a genetic homogenization as ten breeding populations become one;

A gene engineered into a species to confer upon that species some desirable characteristic (e.g., a crop plant resistant to herbicide) may transfer in the environment to other species, thereby conferring that characteristic, which would be undesirable in that setting (weeds becoming resistant to herbicides).

In preparing applications responsive to this part of the RFA, you should keep in mind that research funded by EPA must support the mission of the Agency to protect human health and the environment, taken in its broadest sense. This could include projects which would assist the Agency in determining the need for regulatory activity to address a particular problem, information that would inform the public about solutions to environment problems, or data that will permit the agency to design further research and development activities.

Part 2: Futures Research in Natural Sciences

In order to perform its mission better, EPA wishes to engage the scientific community in identifying emerging environmental problems of the future and/or applying new knowledge, approaches, and techniques in novel ways to solve existing problems. In this part of the RFA emphasis must be on issues that the research community needs to start working on now before headlines have appeared. Research may be "high risk" or deal with fundamental principles, but should lead to creative or innovative solutions to potential high risk environmental problems. Applications should describe the nature and significance of the environmental issue being targeted,along with the nature and expected benefits of the proposed research in leading to a solution to that issue or significantly advancing the understanding of the science that underlies it.

In the application, proposers should:

1. suggest an area where scientific data are minimal, scattered, or conflicting that could portend a future environmental problem or describe an emerging field of knowledge which may be applied to an environmental problem in a unique way;

2. justify and defend that choice in detail, including consideration of potential environmental risk or the potential benefit of using the new knowledge.;

3. propose a research program of up to three years duration to address the problem, and

4. explain why the proposed investigator is the right person to do the research proposed.

Key features in proposal evaluation will be: (1) the seriousness of the identified potential problem, (2) the value of the possible proposed synthesis even if the seriousness of the suspected problem turn outs to be minimal, and (3) the potential to provide novel solutions to current problems.

Examples of problems which might have profited from such early examination in the past include (this is not a list of preferred or present topics):

  • acid rain

  • stratospheric ozone depletion

  • effects and environmental persistence of PCBs
At the conclusion of these studies, a workshop will be held to determine what is not worth pursuing further or what should be pursued through a focused mechanism either by EPA or other research organizations. Applicants should budget for their attendance at such a workshop in the Washington, DC, area.

Part 3: Futures Research in Sustainability: Regional Scale Assessments

Our society is becoming more crowded, more consuming, more interconnected and is undergoing a number of other social, economic and technological changes. This transition will place greatly increased pressures on our environment and life support systems. In order to ensure that this becomes a transition toward sustainability, it is important to understand how trends of population and habitation, wealth and consumption, technology and work, connectedness and diversity and others will translate into new pressures on our environment. It is particularly important to consider the threats that will evolve from multiple, cumulative, and interactive stresses that result from human activities. This solicitation seeks proposals to develop future scenarios for use in regional scale ecological risk assessment.

Three underlying questions will need to be answered:(1) What are the dominant social, economic, and technological trends that will most likely generate future environmental risks? (2) Which ecosystems within a region will be at highest risk to loss of sustainability? and(3) How are these risks likely to change over the next 10 to 25 years?

Answering these questions will facilitate proactive risk management approaches that will allow decision-makers to evaluate the trade-offs associated with alternative policy decisions.

EPA is requesting proposals that lead to new approaches for developing and evaluating alternative future socio-economic scenarios which may create risks to regional ecosystems and threaten their sustainability.Regional scale, in this context, is defined as a multiple-state area, e.g.,the Mid-Atlantic. While proposals for all regions of the United States will be considered, the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern regions will be given he highest priority.

Scenarios should address the dominant changes in socio-economic drivers (e.g., advances in technology, population demographics,energy availability, consumer preferences, etc.) and the associated pattern of changes in human pressure on the environment (e.g. regional pollutant loadings, introduction and spread of new pests and pathogens, non-sustain able use of soils and water, etc.).

Examples of scenarios may include, but are not limited to:

(1) changes in regional fuel mix, fuel prices,or technologies;

(2) changes in telecommuting, electronic commerce,or the use of mass transit;

(3) projected shifts in agricultural production that reflect displacements of traditional crops, shifts in management that include the use of new pesticides and fertilizers, or changes in yield from genetically modified crops;

(4) changes in the use of pharmaceuticals, need for medical services, and life-styles resulting from an aging population; and

(5) changes in human behavior that impact where people choose to live, as well as house size, lot size, and number of people per household.

Examples of "degradation scenarios" associated with such changes can be found in chapter 6 of "Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability," Board on Sustainable Development, Policy Division,National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1999.

Proposers should consider the need to take an interdisciplinary approach to this research that recognizes the interactive nature of society and environmental change. Another challenge is to consider the differences in patterns across a region, since changes in socio-economic drivers and resulting pressures will likely vary from large metropolitan areas to small rural communities. Scenarios should address patterns and trends in regional infrastructure, including transportation, energy, land-use, etc., that increase regional ecological risk. Research may integrate across various sectors (agricultural, industrial, urban, etc) as appropriate.

Results or outcomes should include (1) GIS data or(2) transferrable models.


Approximately $5 million is expected to be available in FY2000 for new research grants in part 1, $1 million in part 2, and $2.5 million in part 3. The project award range for part 1 is $100,000to $150,000 per year for up to 3 years; for part 2 is $75,000 to $125,000 per year for up to 3 years. Depending on complexity, awards of up to $200,000 per year for up to 2 years will be considered for part 3. Awards are subject to the availability of funds.


Academic and not-for-profit institutions located in the U.S., and state or local governments, are eligible under all existing authorizations. Profit-making firms are not eligible to receive grants from EPA under this program. Federal agencies and national laboratories funded by federal agencies (Federally-funded Research and Development Centers, FFRDCs) may not apply.

Federal employees are not eligible to serve in a principal leadership role on a grant. FFRDC employees may cooperate or collaborate with eligible applicants within the limits imposed by applicable legislation and regulations. They, Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application. The necessary forms for submitting an application will be found on this web site.

Sorting Codes

The need for a sorting code to be used in the application and for mailing is described in the Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application. The sorting codes for applications submitted in response to this solicitation are

2000-STAR-K1 for part 1, "Exploratory Research on Biopollution,"

2000-STAR-K2 for part 2, "Futures Research in Natural Sciences," and

2000-STAR-K3 for part 3, "Futures Research in Socio-Economics."

The deadline for receipt of the application by NCER is no later than 4:00 p.m. ET, July 6, 2000.


Further information, if needed, may be obtained from the EPA officials indicated below. E-mail inquiries are preferred.

Contact for part 1, "Exploratory Research on Biopollution:"

David Kleffman 202-564-6903

Contact for part 2, "Futures Research in Natural Sciences:"

Roger Cortesi 202-564-6852

Contact for part 3, "Futures Research in Socio-Economics:"

Barbara Levinson 202-564-6911

Last Updated: February 14, 2000