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New Survey Suggests Future Directions for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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Inspired by the upcoming 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Center for Environmental Policy (CEP) at American University School of Public Affairs surveyed 1,550 former employees of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the EPA Alumni Association about the top challenges and future direction of the agency.

"The goal is to transcend polarized debate and suggest a future for the EPA that can help build a capable, effective agency of the future," said Dan Fiorino, distinguished executive-in-residence and director of the Center for Environmental Policy.

CEP partnered with the EPA Alumni Association to consider the challenges ahead and suggest future directions for the agency. The project takes a long view – past today's contentious issues and legislative framework – to forge a broadly shared vision of a healthy environment. Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that climate change was a top priority.

Eighty-two percent of survey respondents believe that climate change is the most serious challenge for today and the future and many pointed out the need for urgent action.

"Fifty years from now, EPA will be judged by how well it pivoted to recognize implications of greenhouse gases," said a respondent. "We should be asking the questions: 'What do we need to do to move in that direction, ASAP?"

In addition to climate change, other top challenges identified by former EPA employees in the survey included water resource management (63.9 percent), energy impacts (59.6 percent), and biodiversity and ecosystems protection (49.3 percent).

The survey also revealed the most important actions for the agency in the future. A strong emphasis on science was identified as being critical for EPA's future, as well as increased public awareness and transparency, strengthening EPA-state relationships, adopting new approaches, forming partnerships, and the need to clarify its agency mission.

The survey comes just as the School of Public Affairs and AU’s Washington College of Law host a forum April 23-24 to discuss what’s next for the EPA and its state partners. The event brings together nearly 300 participants, including students and representatives from government, associations, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector. Headliners include three former EPA administrators, former Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams and Robert Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

“We hope to give some shape to the energy around Earth Day and EPA’s 50th anniversary,” said John Reeder, SPA executive-in-residence visiting from the EPA. “We want people to pick up on some of the themes and priorities we have identified – taking the conversation beyond Washington. The hope is the project can produce a broadly supported agenda for future leaders of the agency.”

“AU is well positioned to be a leader and convene this conference,” said Reeder, a 30-year veteran of the EPA, most recently as deputy chief of staff. “Almost all schools at AU have some connection to environmental protection, policy, science or communication – and the university itself has impressive sustainability accomplishments.” 

The event is being held at the law school’s campus in Tenleytown. It is also sponsored by the Environmental Law Institute, the EPA Alumni Association, and the Hanley Foundation.

You can read the entire survey report and a brief summary.