Environmentalists Call For Improvements in Public Access to Information

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Hotline, Winter 1997

In mid-December, GASP joined 199 other national and community-level organizations in a letter to EPA Administrator Carol Browner, calling for improvements in the agency’s much-delayed “facility identification” initiative. The initiative is intended to electronically link for public access all information collected under Federal environmental laws. The letter stated (in part):

Despite spending over $300 million each year on environmental information, EPA cannot readily form environmental profiles of industrial facilities. Finding, compiling, and comparing environmental information is a formidable task. The data are fragmented among different states and EPA program offices, each with different data systems and different rules for public access. Once obtained, information is incomplete and inconsistent. Neither EPA nor the public can readily obtain the information needed to make effective environmental decisions.

In 1994, an EPA-appointed task force told the agency that: “If EPA does not change its approach to managing information resources, the Agency will fail” in its mission. The task force recommended that EPA link its information through common-sense elements covering: facility identification; location; regulated substances; industrial sector; chemicals; and organization (parent company). These “key identifiers” form the basis of EPA’s facility identification initiative.

With a strong commitment from EPA, the facility identification initiative will enable people to readily find information on environmental conditions where we work, live, or play. It will enable people to obtain information from all of EPA’s data collections for a local factory, its parent company, an entire industry, a zip code or watershed, or a regulatory requirement. Further, reforms will encourage public use of environmental information and support consolidated “one-stop” reporting for industry.

The letter was presented at a public meeting on December 12. Later in December, the Clean Steel Coalition, of which GASP is a member, also wrote to EPA in support of the initiative. Copies of both letters are available from the GASP office.

by John Warren, GASP Board of Directors