Environmental data systems have largely escaped scrutiny in the past decades. But these systems are the foundations for evaluating environmental priorities, making management decisions, and deciding which perspectives to value. Information is the foundation of effective regulation. The decisions regulators make about gathering, assimilating, and sharing information are, in many cases, determinative of the outcomes they reach. This is certainly true in the case of the environment.
This paper looks at how current environmental regulation has created data systems that undermine scientific legitimacy and systematically prevent stakeholder participation in environmental decision-making. These data systems concentrate power within federal and state agencies that are often ill-equipped to use this data effectively. New calls to open environmental data have the potential to shift these norms, but they will not be successful without fundamental restructuring in the regulatory treatment of environmental data. This paper uses fisheries management as a case study to expose how outdated data perceptions and architectures are at the root of many current environmental management failures. Technological innovation is challenging many of these norms, creating opportunities for better management that can only be achieved if agencies fundamentally rethink environmental data management. I argue that federal agencies can support better regulatory outcomes by creating Environmental Data Offices and open data systems.
Annie Brett, Information as Power: Democratizing Environmental Data, 2022 Utah L. Rev. 127