The National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) was founded in 1990 as the Committee for the National Institute for the Environment (CNIE). Its mission was "to improve the scientific basis for environmental decisionmaking by bringing about the establishment of the National Institute for the Environment (NIE) and supporting the successful implementation of its principles and programs." The National Institute for the Environment would support interdisciplinary research, scientific assessment, information dissemination, and education.
This work led the National Science Board to adopt a recommendation to triple the National Science Foundation’s annual budget for environmental research, education and assessment, and to implement much of what was proposed for the National Institute for the Environment beginning in 2000. Through education and outreach, CNIE brought together a diverse constituency to endorse the NIE concept, including:
- 284 universities and 84 scientific professional societies and academies of science.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 35 other business groups and chambers of commerce.
- 17 organizations representing state and local government, including the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
- 50 national and regional environmental groups.
- Three former administrators of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, all whom served as former EPA science directors prior to 1993.
In 1997, CNIE persuaded Congress to direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the creation of an NIE under its auspices. To do so, NSF’s governing body, the National Science Board (NSB), created a Task Force on the Environment. The Task Force's interim report, Environmental Science and Engineering for the 21st Century: The Role of the National Science Foundation, was approved on July 28, 1999, by the NSB. The report recommended a bold initiative with a funding target of an additional $1 billion/year to implement nearly all of the activities proposed for the original NIE. On October 27, 1999, CNIE publicly declared its endorsement of the NSB report in a statement to its supporters that declared:
The CNIE strongly supports full funding and effective implementation of all of the NSB's recommendations in an integrated fashion. Furthermore, the CNIE is suspending our call for the creation of a National Institute for the Environment to work in support of the NSF initiative.
This endorsement altered CNIE’s mission to simply "improving the scientific basis for environmental decisionmaking." On January 27, 2000, CNIE also changed its name to the National Council for Science and the Environment to better reflect this mission and adopted a new strategic plan to implement those NIE-related activities, which the National Science Foundation could not.
Since 2000, the National Council for Science and the Environment has expanded rapidly and continues to work to improve the scientific basis for environmental decisionmaking through programs of public education and outreach, advancing environmental education, communicating science-based information to society, and facilitating solution-oriented collaborations on key environmental challenges with stakeholders.