September 23, 2004


National oceanic and atmospheric administration
Regulations law wouldn’t apply to NOAA under Senate measure

A law favored by business groups because it potentially makes it tougher for federal agencies to impose costly regulations wouldn’t apply to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) if a Senate spending measure becomes law.

Business lobbyists were preparing to contest the provision in the Senate commerce, justice and state appropriations bill that would place NOAA’s research, data-collection and analytic efforts outside the reach of the Data Quality Act (DQA).

satellite image of hurricane karl courtesy of noaa
A provision in an appropriations bill would affect NOAA’s research and data-collection as it pertains to the Data Quality Act.

But it wasn’t clear at press time who was sponsoring the provision, or why it targets NOAA, which is responsible for tracking climate changes and managing fisheries.

The provision, slipped in at the last minute to the spending package, would make NOAA the only federal department exempt from the DQA.

That law, which Congress passed as part of a larger appropriations measure in 2000, has been embraced by industry groups because it allows stakeholders to challenge the information that agencies use to adopt rules.

Businesses, for example, could challenge the rules but not the information on which they were based before the passage of the DQA, which was signed by President Clinton.

“The right likes it because it tries to introduce sound science into the process,” said one energy lobbyist who favors the act.

An Aug. 16 article in The Washington Post reported that in the first 20 months since the act was fully implemented, it had been used mostly by industry. Of the 39 petitions filed that sought more than technical changes to agency rules, 32 were filed by regulated industries.

Environmental and consumer-advocacy groups, meanwhile, say the DQA, as implemented by the Bush administration, raises the bar too high when it comes to creating a new rule to address a problem.

OMB Watch, a nonprofit group that monitors the White House Office of Management and Budget, calls the DQA “industry’s tool to distort science and block needed protections.”

“It’s unnecessary,” said Sean Moulton, a senior policy analyst at OMB Watch. “What it does is add another bureaucratic layer to an already overloaded and slow regulatory process.”

Several sources said they doubted that the provision exempting NOAA would survive a conference with the House. The White House seems likely to oppose it, and it wasn’t clear at press time who its chief advocates were.

“We didn’t seek the exemption. We believe in the quality of our science and we are willing to open it up to scrutiny,” said Scott Rayder, the chief of staff to NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher, a retired Navy vice admiral.

NOAA’s mission includes monitoring and researching changes in the atmosphere, including weather patterns and ozone holes. NOAA also manages and conserves coastal and marine resources. Its fisheries division regulates an $80 billion industry.

The website for the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness (CRE), a group founded in 1996 to provide analyses of agency regulations and a strong advocate of the DQA, speculated that the provision was put in by advocates who want to impose new emissions requirements on companies in response to concerns about global warming.

“By exempting NOAA, this provision will prevent an honest evaluation of the science of climate change from occurring and ensure that future policy decisions are based not on sound science but rather on junk science,” a posting on the site said.

Others suggested that the provision was put into the bill as a possible aid to fisheries.

According to the CRE, only two petitions have been filed at NOAA using the DQA. Both related to the management of fisheries in the Northeast and were filed by industry groups.