Rotting Under the Bridge


administrative law
executive authority
judicial review
cost-benefit analysis
regulatory process
scientific data
National Waters Protection Rule
Clean Water Act

How to Cite

Flatt, V., & Bryner, N. (2023). Rotting Under the Bridge: How False Data is Polluting Administrative Rulemaking. Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, 48(S), 44.


In response to legislative gridlock, Presidents have increasingly relied on policy made by administrative action, leading to major swings occurring when the political party of the presidency changes. These policy disputes have spilled into the third branch with a concomitant increase in legal challenges seeking judicial review of such actions. At the same time, since the 1980s, both Republican and Democratic administrations have made cost-benefit analysis the currency of federal rulemaking in the executive branch.

The combination of cost-benefit analysis requirements and increased litigation over rulemaking has increased the importance of economic and scientific justifications in both the original promulgation and any subsequent revision of administrative actions. False or misleading data in regulatory analysis, when unchecked, pollutes the regulatory process—and administrative decisions that rely on flawed data should be struck down as arbitrary and capricious.

Despite their importance to the administrative process, the actual economic and scientific analyses that underlie cost-benefit studies are often not at the front and center of regulatory action or of legal challenges. To more transparently understand the legality of administrative actions and thus to push for better regulatory actions, these underlying data should be better presented in agency actions. Though attorneys may not believe themselves well versed in the minutiae of such studies, underlying economic and scientific data should be analyzed closely in any legal rulemaking challenges.

In this Article, we use the economic analyses accompanying the Trump administration’s National Waters Protection Rule rulemaking under the Clean Water Act as a case study to demonstrate the importance of such data and administrative actions, and as a vehicle to discuss approaches to accommodate this procedural need moving forward.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Victor B. Flatt, Nicholas S. Bryner