The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) said it is weighing its options to appeal a federal judge's decision rejecting its petition in a case involving ``early warning'' data submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
According to the RMA, Exemption 3 of the Freedom of Information Act-which allows Congress to forbid information disclosure under a statute-mandates that all data submitted to NHTSA under the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act are confidential.
But Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia disagreed in his July 31 ruling.
The section of the TREAD Act covering early warning data contains nothing about preventing their disclosure and thus is not covered under Exemption 3, Judge Leon said. Instead, it gives NHTSA wide latitude in determining whether the release of information will be helpful in carrying out the safety goals of the statute.
Consumer group Public Citizen, which has long advocated the public availability of all TREAD Act information, applauded the judge's decision.
``The point of the law was to ensure that the government and public receive the information they need to respond to serious safety problems involving vehicles and tires,'' Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said. ``Only if that information is available can we be sure that the government is doing all it can.''
Both the RMA and Public Citizen asked the court to rule on Exemption 3 after its March 31 decision skirted the issue.
In July 2003, NHTSA issued a final early warning rule granting confidentiality to production, warranty and consumer complaint data submitted under the TREAD Act. The rule was amended in April 2004 to add common green tire lists-which cover basic tire constructions for various models and brands-to the confidential group.
But the agency refused to allow confidential treatment of fatality, injury and property damage data, which the RMA wanted. Public Citizen argued that all this information should be publicly accessible. Both organizations sued NHTSA, causing the agency to delay the release of early warning data indefinitely.
In the March 31 ruling, the court remanded the early warning rule to NHTSA on the grounds the agency did not allow adequate notice and comment periods. This prompted both the RMA and Public Citizen to request a ruling on the Exemption 3 issue.
An RMA spokesman said the association has until the end of September to decide its route of appeal.