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Holes in US environmental data hurt policymaking - study

Holes in US environmental data hurt policymaking - study
WASHINGTON - U.S. lawmakers lack critical data about land, water and air pollution to draw up effective environmental policies, according to a landmark study released by an independent group.
The Heinz Center for Science, Economics and Environment, a think-tank that is not affiliated with industry or green groups, was asked in 1995 by the Clinton administration to gather existing data on the nation\'s environment to assess its health. The 270-page report did not examine existing environmental policy or recommend changes. Instead, it found that nearly 50 percent of data needed to address environmental policy were inadequate or not available. Some environmental data is missing because of conflicting information and uncertainty among scientists over how the data can be collected and measured, it said. Each year, the federal government spends more than $600 million collecting environmental data and imposing additional requirements to monitor emissions and effluents. \"Policy making about the environment will always be contentious in a democracy,\" said Thomas Lovejoy, president of the Heinz Center. \"Debates as to how best to manage our nations\'s natural resources should not be sidetracked through needless debates about the facts.\" Environmental groups, industry lobbyists and lawmakers often square off on issues, pointing to different scientific studies for support. \"Only by having a clearer understanding of where we are, can we hope to move in a direction where we want to be - toward cleaner air, purer water and better protected lands,\" Christine Todd Whitman, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said at the release of the study. Whitman said the EPA also is working on its own ecosystem assessment. The Heinz Center\'s study collected input from nearly 150 businesses, green groups, universities and the federal government. The collaboration highlighted ten characteristics that should be tracked over time for seven ecosystems: the United States as a whole, grasslands and shrubs, coasts and oceans, farmlands, urban and suburban areas, forests and fresh waters. Each category documented the chemical and physical conditions of the ecosystem, such as soil erosion or nitrogen levels, plant and animal communities and human uses. The next Heinz report will be issued in 2007. REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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