Boston Globe
December 23, 2003


By Adrianne Appel

Not quite two years ago, barely anybody took notice when a
federal agency issued a benign-sounding rule requiring that any
scientific data used to drive federal policy be useful,
objective, and reproducible. Today, a number of academics and
environmental and health organizations are charging that
businesses are using the rule to squelch scientific research
that could lead to important health, environmental, and public
safety regulations. "This little fragment of a law that passed
in the dead of night with no discussion -- it sounds so
wholesome it could be a birthday card to your mother -- has
turned into a monster law that's being used to harass
scientists to within an inch of their lives," said Rena
Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland and
member of the Center for Progressive Regulation, a group of 30
professors formed in the wake of the issuing of the rule.
"Nothing less than the integrity and independence of science is
at stake.

The businesses that helped draft the Federal Data Quality Act
were looking to cut down on the "junk science" that they
believed led to unnecessary regulation, so they gave the public
the power to call into question research they considered
useless, biased or unreproducible. "Regulations were
over-burdensome and caused too much paperwork," said Jim Tozzi,
a pro-business lobbyist who worked on the act.

Historically, the Office of Management and Budget had reviewed
regulations to ensure their impact on government and business
was reasonable -- but during the Clinton administration, that
review was stopped, Tozzi said. "We felt somebody had to
regulate the regulators," he said. Over the last two years,
Tozzi and others have used the act more than 100 times to
question data, including information that led the US Forest
Service to classify the goshawk as a "sensitive species" -
stalling Western timber interests -- and a global climate change
report released by former Vice President Al Gore that could lay
the groundwork for stricter air pollution rules.

Critics of the act, which is under the direction of the Office
of Management and Budget, say it puts scientific research on
trial, not by other scientists but by businesses and entities
with a financial interest in halting protective regulations.

The act's standard of proof is too high to meet and will snag
too much valid scientific research, according to Joanne Padron
Carney, a policy analyst at the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, a large organization of scientists. In
science, theories evolve and change over time, she said. Very
rarely is there a "bright line" in which all the research on a
subject shows the same results. "Does that mean you don't issue
a policy until you are 100 percent sure?" Carney said. That,
she said, would be an extremely difficult standard for any
scientist to meet on virtually any topic.

Kevin Casey, director of federal and state relations for
Harvard University, said the act could "peel back a decade of
regulations in the areas of water and clean air." One recent
challenge from Massachusetts illustrates the power of the act
and why it makes academics and advocates squirm.

George Seaver of Cataumet, a member of Friends of the
Massachusetts Military Reservation, invoked the act in June to
try to block the Environmental Protection Agency from
redefining the dangerousness of perchlorate, a chemical found
in explosives, which had leached from the base into wells in
Bourne. If perchlorate were considered dangerous at just 1 part
per billion, instead of the current standard of 4 to 18 parts
per billion, Seaver said property values in the area would
plummet, wells would be shuttered, and activities on the
military reservation would be further restricted. He filed two
challenges, one that charged the chemical was not as dangerous
as local EPA officials had begun to say. By August, the EPA
decided not to re-label perchlorate as more dangerous, but EPA
spokesman Peyton Fleming said the agency was not influenced by
Seaver's challenge.

The Maine-based aquaculture giant, Atlantic Salmon, used the
act this spring to challenge government data on salmon, seeking
a relaxation of restrictions on farmed salmon. The National
Marine Fisheries Service successfully defended its data this
summer, according to Fisheries Service spokesman Jon Gibson,
and the company said it would not appeal.

In August, Tozzi sent letters to the American Association of
University Professors and other major university associations,
and to the World Health Organization, warning that his group
would invoke the act and challenge any research sent to the
government that doesn't appear to meet the standards outlined
in the law. Tozzi's group recently targeted research submitted
to the EPA by a scientist at Cornell University and the Natural
Resources Defense Council concerning pollutants in sludge. "We
thought they exaggerated a lot," said Tozzi, one of three
members of the board of advisers for the Center for Regulatory
Effectiveness, a seven-year-old government watchdog group.
"They can write anything they want. Any person in the world
can. What we're saying is if the agency uses it, they're bound
by the quality act."

Elaine Stanley, director of the Office of Information Analysis
at EPA, said the EPA probably would not subject the research to
the act because it was presented as part of a public comments
process. The Cornell scientist, Ellen Z. Harrison, said she was
shocked that someone would use the data rule -- which she
described as "appalling and very frightening" -- to question
legitimate science. "The idea that EPA should not be taking
into consideration current, state-of-the-art information is a
scary idea," she said.

Copyright 2003 New York Times Company