Data Quality Counter-Challenge
by Guest Blogger, 5/19/2003
Recently, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service received their first challenge under the Data Quality Act. Soon after, they also received a precedent-setting counter-challenge. While several agencies have received a variety of challenges under the Data Quality Act, none have received a counter-petition. Fjord Seafood filed the initial data quality challenge questioning the transparency and reproducibility of information supporting limitations imposed on salmon farmers. The limitation was enacted after Maine's wild Atlantic salmon was listed as an endangered species in 2000. Fjord asserts that the primary data for the study that was relied upon to set permit limits has not been released, in spite of repeated requests including a Freedom of Information Act appeal filed by the state of Maine. Long time opponents of salmon farming, including U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, Conservation Law Foundation, Charles Fitzgerald and Stephen Crawford, filed an opposing petition with the same agencies urging them to reject the company's request. The opposing petition claimed that the data had been fully disclosed and reviewed by a subsidiary of Fjord. It is unclear what legal standing the opposition's challenge will be given in the data quality process. While every agency was required to include details on an administrative mechanism for data quality challenges to be filed and processed in their data quality guidelines, no agency has official procedures in their data quality guidelines to handle counter-challenges. The precedent set if the opposing petition is granted standing could be a double-edged sword. While it might allow other public interest groups to counter the expected misuse of the data quality guidelines by industry, it could also further bog down a mechanism that many believe will delay the regulatory process.