Harnessing the Power of Information for the Next Generation of Environmental Law
20 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2008 Last revised: 13 Feb 2009
Despite the ubiquity of information, no one has proposed calling the present era the Knowledge Age. Knowledge depends not only on access to reliable information, but also on sound judgment regarding which information to access and how to situate that information in relation to the values and purposes that comprise the individual's or the social group's larger projects. This is certainly the case for wise and effective environmental governance. A regulator needs accurate information to understand the nature of a problem and the consequences of potential responses. Likewise, the regulated community needs information to decide how best to comply with adopted rules, and the public needs information in order to accept the credibility and legitimacy of the regulatory regime. But governance also requires judgment regarding how to manage information itself - how to structure burdens of proof in light of goals such as public safety or promotion of economic growth, how to balance the public's interest in disclosure against competing aims such as national security or the protection of trade secrets, whether to withhold information in the belief that it may actually be harmful to the recipient, and so on.
This paper, written as a foreword for the Texas Law Review's symposium issue, "Harnessing the Power of Information for the Next Generation of Environmental Law," provides a model to understand the role of information in environmental law - how it is generated, utilized, and disseminated within regulatory processes. Drawing on the diverse and significant insights of the symposium articles, the paper attempts both to make sense of the role of information in environmental protection and to highlight significant questions and concerns.
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