Federal environmental laws already under attack by American business and industry face potential paralysis on Oct. 1, the effective date of a Trojan Horse statute known as the federal Data Quality Act.
This innocuous-sounding law, 27 lines quietly slipped into a huge appropriations bill 18 months ago, has the potential to tie government rulemaking in knots for years to come, especially in the area of environmental regulation.
On the face of it, the law has a laudable purpose. It requires federal agencies to guarantee the quality of the information they use when issuing studies and writing new rules and regulations.
While that sounds reasonable, published reports indicate corporate interests, who helped write the law, are ready to use it to launch a continuing series of challenges to laws that are supposed to prevent pollution of our air, water, and soil.
Chief among the targets are the Clean Air Act of 1997, which business failed to overturn, even before a conservative U.S. Supreme Court in 2001, and the global-warming report put out recently by the Bush Administration. That's the report that was publicly disowned by President Bush because it confirmed that potentially dangerous climate change is the result of human activity, notably the burning of fossil fuels.
The mantra of industrial polluters is always that environmentalists exaggerate the effects of pollution, and that laws are too stringent, too burdensome, and are frequently based on “bad science” or “flawed” (the favorite word of the Bush Administration) studies.
Under the new law, polluters will be free to focus less on opposition to the rules and regulations themselves while achieving the same result - delaying or halting their implementation through lawsuits - by attacking the information on which they are based.
Federal agencies are going to have to be on guard against this second front in the battle by polluters eager to escape responsibility for degradation of the environment. The nation's health depends on it.