Five Washington-based groups are leading the debate over the government's role in risk assessment. All seem to be working toward the same goal: less-cumbersome, more cost-conscious government regulation. Why don't they work together?
None of the groups has the ears of both the Clinton administration and the Congress. And, although they have similar goals, their approach, and their sense of urgency, are quite different.
The National Academy of Public Administration commissioned a panel of experts to study risk assessment for the Environmental Protection Agency in part because ``Congress should stop micromanaging EPA,'' said NAPA President R. Scott Fosler.
Instead, ``EPA should adopt a mission statement that spells out clearly its own responsibilities, as well as those of the states, localities and the private sector,'' he said.
The Alliance for Reasonable Regulation, which is supported by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., doesn't want to wait for internal reform followed by a congressional rubber stamp. ARR wants immediate enactment of legislation ``that will accomplish regulatory reform using sound science, risk assessment and sound economics.''
EPA's own National Environmental Performance Partnership System brings national and state environment officials together ``for substantial improvement in the existing regulatory system to produce the best environmental protection at the least cost.''
The Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management believes ``Regulatory decisions may be improved by good risk assessment, but good risk assessments do not ensure good regulatory decisions.''
The National Environmental Policy Institute, led by former congressman Don Ritter, advocates bringing together legislators, industry, environmentalists and local government officials to determine the scope and nature of efforts to reinvent regulatory reform.
Take your pick.
The resulting confusion over who favors what will water down the effectiveness of any congressional rule on risk assessment. It becomes free speech in a free-for-all in which no one is heard.
All the while, President Clinton is slowly, reluctantly rebuilding the framework of how risk assessment is practiced to the specifications of a blueprint called the Contract with America.
For example, the EPA decided April 26 to lift the regulatory burden on states regarding the collection of hazardous recyclable items such as batteries and pesticides - even the mercury in old thermometers.
With simplified federal requirements for packaging and handling wastes and streamlining of notification requirements, states may now have a much larger role in regulating hazardous waste.
And while cutting compliance costs for small businesses, the new rules may well help cut the amount of household ``hazardous'' wastes usually tossed - inadvertently, or intentionally - in the trash.
In the meantime, the congressional debate over the definition of risk assessment continues.
If Congress continues to natter over the issue, the best reform possible may be formed in spite of congressional debate.
Considering how basic the involvement of the government's assessment of risk is in our daily lives, is that what Congress or the country wants?
King is the Washington-based East Coast reporter for Plastics News.