Clearly frustrated, the White House is making a run around Congress to change the way the agencies conduct risk assessments, the studies that form the basis for health protections. The Office of Management and Budget has proposed mandatory "guidelines" that would require agencies to conduct impossibly comprehensive risk assessments before issuing scientific or technical documents, including the rules polluters have to follow.But beware, they're getting more clever, if we let them:
What appears at first blush to be good government reform is in fact a backdoor attempt to undermine existing environmental laws. If this is successful, the uncertainty manufactured by polluters will be written into federal risk assessments, providing the justification to weaken public health protection.
Big tobacco's response, disputing EPA estimates, was spearheaded by experts in the lucrative new industry science called "product defense."
The cigarette manufacturers' scientists-for-hire were rarely successful in swaying federal scientists, so the industry arranged for other legislation whose name was misleading, the "Data Quality Act" (DQA), to be slipped into an appropriations bill in 2001 without hearing or debate. The DQA allows affected parties to challenge a government report or document, giving tobacco a new forum to argue over science and to further delay the government's smoking prevention activities.
Now, with its risk assessment proposal, the Bush administration is interpreting the DQA as a license to override the Clean Air Act and laws meant to protect the public's health and environment.
Years from now, we will view these attempts by the administration and hired scientific guns to weaken environmental protections with the same outrage with which we now look back on the deceits perpetrated by Big Tobacco. But will years from now be too late?