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Volume [field_article_intvolume_value], Issue [field_article_intissue_value] — June 1997


Causality in Epidemiology, Health Policy, and Law

by Philip Cole

Editors' Summary: Determining the impact that environmental forces have on human health is an integral part of environmental law and policy. A determination of this impact must, of course, begin with a determination of whether there has been any impact at all. Evaluating the causal relationship between environmental forces and human illness is, therefore, essential. This Article, written by a professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Public Health, examines the epidemiologic process for assessing causation, both for purposes of environmental litigation and for purposes of environmental regulation. The Article analyzes three situations in which it is necessary to evaluate causation: an individual research study, an assessment of a general causal hypothesis, and an examination of a specific individual's illness. The Article discusses the criteria for establishing causation and reviews factors, other than causation, that may lead to apparent correlations between exposures and diseases. Finally, the Article suggests ways to approach evaluations of causation to promote more effective use of scientific evidence in environmental law and policymaking.


Lessons Learned in the Transfer of U.S.-Generated Environmental Compliance Tools: Compliance Schedules for Poland

by Ruth Greenspan Bell and Susan E. Bromm


Environmental-protection techniques that have been developed in the United States may be useful to other countries. Specific tools such as compliance schedules can help countries bring actual environmental practice in line with ambitious discharge requirements. They can also help domestic phase-in of obligations under accession agreements with entities such as the European Union (EU) that often have more rigorous requirements than new members are able to achieve in the short run. However, the success of these mechanisms is often linked to the availability of other types of institutions available in the United States, including traditions of law, public participation, and transparency.

Because the same combination of elements that form the backbone of environmental protection in the United States is not always found in other countries, effective transfers of tools with a track record of success in the United States require special efforts on the part of both countries engaged in the transfer, as well as in-depth understanding of each other's traditions of law and other domestic conditions. The process of adapting U.S.-developed toolsof environmental protection for use in countries with markedly different legal and cultural traditions provides interesting lessons, not only about their transferability, but more generally about the strengths and weaknesses of environmental-assistance efforts.

In Defense of the Superfund Liability System: Matching the Diagnosis and the Cure

by Rena I. Steinzor and Linda E. Greer

The Sad State of the Policy Debate

Over the last decade and a half, the Superfund policy debate has assumed all the characteristics of what sociologists might call a dysfunctional subculture. Inside the Washington Beltway, the same 200 people make the same arguments to each other with the same disastrous results: controversy, gridlock, and a bad name for anyone prominently associated with the program. Occasionally, the debate is treated to an infusion of fresh blood, as it was in the 1994 national election. But newcomers flush with conviction about their own ability to find a magic solution to the problem soon become mired in the tangle of conflicting interests, dueling ideologies, and—perhaps most important of all—fiscal realities. At the same time, it is impossible for most of the participants to abandon the field, either institutionally or personally. Superfund's dual goals—to clean up the dangerous legacy of decades of toxic waste disposal and to prevent continued contamination of the environment—are simply too important to ignore.1

The statutory authority for the taxes that support the Superfund program expired in December 1995, and there is little realistic prospect that it will be extended any time soon.2 In the meantime, the process of cleaning up sites has slowed across the country.3 Although Superfund has been in tight spots before, the gridlock that characterizes this reauthorization debate is arguably the most serious threat to the program's ongoing viability that it has ever faced, and may ultimately threaten its very existence. The gridlock is especially tragic because the 103d and 104th Congresses squandered an historic opportunity to enact delicately balanced, carefully crafted consensus legislation that was supported at the time by a critical mass of the program's stakeholders, including everyone from the Monsanto Company to the Sierra Club.4