Academic journal article Environmental Law

Will More, Better, Cheaper, and Faster Monitoring Improve Environmental Management?

Academic journal article Environmental Law

Will More, Better, Cheaper, and Faster Monitoring Improve Environmental Management?

Article excerpt

I.   INTRODUCTION II.  A LAWYER'S INTRODUCTION TO ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING AND      GENETIC MONITORING      A. The Science of Monitoring      B. Introduction to Genetic Monitoring for Lawyers, and Why It      Matters III. APPLICATIONS OF GENETIC MONITORING IN U. S. FEDERAL      ENVIRONMENTAL LAW      A. Solving the Data Problem: Three Genetic Monitoring         Applications Under U.S. Federal Law         1. Genetic Monitoring, Public Health, and the Clean Water            Act         2. Improved Stock Assessment Under the Magnuson            Stevens Act         3. Tracking Invasives and Monitoring Endangered Species      B. Solving the Model Problem: Measuring Human Impacts         1. Cumulative Impacts Under the National Environmental            Policy Act IV.  Implications of More, Better, Cheaper, and Faster      Monitoring for Agency Behavior      A. Cheaper Data Means More Budgetary Flexibility      B. Data Has Political Value      C. Impacts to Substantive Agency Decisions V.   SO WHAT? TURNING DATA INTO INFORMATION VI.  CONCLUSION 


Natural resource management of any kind faces twin challenges. First is the "data problem," in which we lack the raw observational data one might want before making a decision. (1) For example, data on fish distribution, abundance, and catch rates are simply absent for many fisheries, making it difficult to assess the status and trends of such data-poor fish stocks. (2) The second, related challenge is the "model problem," in which we have a less-than-optimal understanding of the ways in which the world's living resources are interconnected, including the crucial interactions between human activities and their environmental effects. (3) Developing such an understanding--i.e., a working model--of ecosystem structure and function depends upon the existence of raw data, as well as upon the secondary understanding of the data collected, and hence the second challenge is nested within the first.

As costs of gathering data rise, both challenges worsen and ultimately become insurmountable. At the extreme, where data (4) is infinitely expensive, we can know nothing new about the world's resources, and so all decisions are made in the dark. How many fish there are and how quickly they reproduce; where natural gas deposits or sites that maximize wind energy are located; how frequent hurricanes have been historically and might be this year, and so on--we would make all decisions without any of these kinds of data. (5) We would accordingly lack the essential feedback mechanism of environmental policy, i.e., the ability to gauge the effect of management decisions on their target natural resources.

It is more difficult to say what the effects of decreased data costs on management might be. What does a world of high-quality, inexpensive data look like? (6) Answering this question depends upon the particular purposes for which we gather data in the first place. Professor Eric Biber has discussed two ends of an information-gathering continuum, ambient monitoring and compliance monitoring, distinguished by their purposes: "The monitoring of 'ambient environmental conditions,' i.e., the state of the environment at the local, regional, national, or global scale, contrasts with 'compliance monitoring,' which focuses on compliance with a legal standard or regulation." (7) Hence, both enforcement of environmental laws, via compliance monitoring, and basic understanding of earth and ecosystem processes, via ambient monitoring, depend upon sustained efforts to gather environmental data.

Past waves of emerging technology have made both ambient and compliance monitoring more powerful and more attractive to the federal agencies most strongly associated with environmental management. Satellite tracking and other remote sensing technologies, for example, have made possible compliance monitoring of waste transport and automobile emissions, (8) while the same techniques have driven fundamental improvements in environmental sciences via ambient monitoring of climate and other earth processes. …

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