Applied Ecosystem Services, LLC

The Environmental Issues Doctor

Photo of Addressing Regulatory Science Uncertainties


Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Environmental regulations are supposed to be based on sound science, yet too often either that science is not presented or is deemed insuffiient by permit applicants and others. The result can be administrative appeals and legal challenges that increase time and costs for the applicant and indecision by regulatory agency staff.

At their core, all environmental regulations ask three questions to assess compliance with the relevant law or statute:

  1. Will the permitted activity adversely effect the natural environment (forecasting)?

  2. Does the operating activity degrade the natural environment (cause and effect)?

  3. Are there synergistic or cumulative impacts from multiple activities (spatio-temporal multivariable interactions)?

Answering these questions requires appropriate baseline data. Regardless of permit type or project/activity stage it is necessary to collect physical, chemical, and biological data consistently at defined locations. These data are identified when the sampling program is designed based on the response variable (or variables) of interest and the potential explanatory variables that influence the values observed and measured. These variables are often called dependent (response) and independent (explanatory).

Determining the relevant response and explanatory variables is necessary to demonstrate compliance with CERCLA, CWA, ESA, NEPA, RCRA and all other environmental laws.

The regulatory science that informs technically sound and legally defensible environmental policy and regulatory decisions has two components: analysis of data using appropriate (and correctly applied) statistical models and interpreting the results using established ecological knowledge of ecosystem dynamics.

This work was originally published on the Applied Ecosystem Services, LLC web site at

It is offered under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license. In short, you may copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format as long as you credit Dr. Richard Shepard as the author. You may not use the material for commercial purposes, and you may not distribute modified versions.

Keep reading

  1. Photo of Sediment Sampling Analysis

    Sediment Sampling Analysis


    Estimated reading time: 1 minutes

    Collecting sediment samples for analysis of contaminants–particularly in river systems–is not just a matter of going out with a bucket and shovel. In fact, it is much more complex than a water quality survey, aquatic biota survey, or any terrestrial sampling program. Monitoring of sediment contaminants frequently is done to determine whether the sediments are a sink or a source of the chemicals of interest, and to evaluate the effects of the contaminants on the aquatic ecosystem as a whole.
  2. Photo of Riparian Zones and Buffers

    Riparian Zones and Buffers


    Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

    Ecologists have determined that landscape edges – boundaries separating one type from another – have higher biological diversity and productivity than do the areas on either side of them. These transition zones are important to animals: mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and fish. In terrestrial ecosystems edges are found between woodlands and grasslands and between forests and meadows. In aquatic ecosystems the edges are stream and river banks and pond and lake shores; the edges separating aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems are called riparian zones.

Contact me to assist you to achieve positive outcomes.