The use of dispersants in oil spill response in the United States remains a controversial environmental topic. At the center of this controversy is a lack of confidence in the available data to evaluate the effects of dispersants on “local” biota. The main reasons that many of the attempts around the country to resolve concerns over dispersant use have been unsuccessful are that they have either 1.) failed to focus on the true issues of concern, 2.) collected laboratory (and sometimes field) data which cannot be effectively applied in decision-making, or 3.) failed to effectively communicate information to the participants in the decision process. These issues can be addressed by a research program intentionally designed to examine issues in an ecosystem context and which focuses on information dissemination and communication, which are the central themes of the Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC) initiative. The MSRC environmental program contains four elements: improved use and synthesis of existing information, improved methods for laboratory toxicity evaluations and interpretation, development of a realistic mesocosm testing program, and field experiments to correlate laboratory and mesocosm data to real world situations. This paper describes the rationale for the program and the progress made over the first two and one-half years.