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A Troubling Precedent: Implementing the Precautionary Principle to Limit the Role of Science in European Decisionmaking

June 2011

Citation: 41 ELR 10520

Issue: 6

Author: Kevin L. Fast

Proponents of the precautionary principle argue that it should be rigorously applied to ensure the safety of human activities that potentially impact public health or welfare before those activities commence. Detractors argue, on the other hand, that the principle is potentially dangerous because it can be misused as a rationale to displace rigorous scientific analysis and, thereby, to support arbitrary government action. Whatever the relative merit of these differing views in the United States, one place where the debate about the precautionary principle has effectively ended is in the European Union (EU). The EU has openly and explicitly adopted the precautionary principle as a foundation for all of its environmental regulatory activity. Any debate that remains concerning the precautionary principle in the EU relates solely to its implementation, not its application.

Kevin Fast is an attorney whose practice focuses on the national and international regulation of motor vehicles and fuels.

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