ARCHIVED: Opposition to Anti-Right-to-Know Language in S. 1596, the VA, HUD and Independent Agencies Appropriations for FY2000

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Dear Member of Congress,

The undersigned organizations are writing to urge you to oppose the anti-Right-to-Know language included in the Senate Report (#106-161) to accompany S. 1596, the VA, HUD and Independent Agencies appropriations bill. The language threatens to undercut successful environmental right-to-know programs and hamstrings the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s ability to honor the public's right to know about environmental problems, from toxic chemicals in our air and water to enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.

The language in the report comes directly out of industry's "Trust us, don*t track us" agenda to roll back right-to-know programs and reverses EPA's affirmative efforts to embrace technologies like the Internet in providing public access to environmental information. In addition, it is yet another example of attacking environmental protections by attaching riders to appropriations bills and as such is a bad way to make policy. Accordingly, we have concerns about the report language and urge it be kept out of the final conference committee report. These concerns include:

  • The report opens the door to holding EPA legally liable for EPA information dissemination activities. Such a policy would allow industry to sue the federal government for disclosing public information about pollution and other environmental problems. It also implies that information dissemination should be subjected to the same procedures that agency rulemakings undergo. These types of procedures would tie EPA in knots, thwarting agency right-to-know initiatives and reducing public access to crucial information. Fundamental democratic principles require an informed public. This language, then, is a radical departure from current law and undercuts democratic principles.
  • The report moves in the wrong direction by suggesting less mandatory disclosure of information. The language suggests weak confidential business information (CBI) standards that would unreasonably broaden industry's ability to hide information behind the veil of trade secrecy. EPA's highly successful Toxics Release Inventory program requires industry to substantiate up front any CBI claim and provides simple, common sense limitations on CBI claims. This model has worked well in providing critical information to the public and resulted in few CBI claims while fully protecting CBI. The language would also impinge on EPA's implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and would quietly expand the powers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other national security agencies by giving them an internal voice in EPA's dissemination decision making process before input can be heard from other affected parties.
  • The requirements go beyond current law by restricting EPA efforts to analyze its own data and create new information products. Under the standards established by the report language, even a single web page developed by EPA staff could have to undergo a complex and burdensome stakeholder review process before it could be available on EPA's web site. We support greater public participation, but do not want to grind public access to a halt with procedural gridlock. In addition, the report language goes further than current law: The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) requires federal agencies to obtain public comment on new information collection activities. The PRA is clear, however, in allowing agencies to re-use information previously collected, thus making the information even more cost-effective for government. And last year the courts threw out a case by an industry lobbyist that tried to extend PRA's requirements on agencies to apply to agencies attempting to re-use information already collected.

This report language moves right-to-know policy in the wrong direction. We urge you to oppose this language and keep it out of the conference committee report.

Mary Alice Baish
American Association of Law Libraries

Charlotte Fraas
American Federation of Teachers

Lynn Bradley
American Library Association

Richard Levinson
American Public Health Association

Ari Schwartz
Center for Democracy and Technology

Lynn Thorp
Clean Water Action

Daniel Swartz
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

Joan Mulhern
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund

David L. Sobel
Electronic Privacy Information Center

Lois Epstein
Environmental Defense Fund

Mike Casey
Environmental Working Group

Courtney Cuff
Friends of the Earth

Bill Ravanesi
Health Care Without Harm

Frank D. Martino
International Chemical Workers Union Council / UFCW

Alan Septoff
Mineral Policy Center

Jay Feldman
National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides

Tom Natan
National Environmental Trust

Erik Olson
Natural Resources Defense Council

Rick Blum
OMB Watch

Wenonah Hauter
Public Citizen*s Critical Mass Energy Project

Kathryn Hohmann
Sierra Club

Eric Frumin
Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Workers (UNITE)

Pat Scarcelli
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

Steve Francisco
United Steelworkers of America

Jeremiah Baumann
U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Michael Gregory
Arizona Toxics Information (Bisbee, AZ)

Sean Lynch
Atlantic States Legal Foundation (Syracuse, NY)

Teresa Mills
Buckeye Environmental Network (Grove City, OH)

Penny Newman
Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (Riverside, CA)

Terry Greene
Center for Environmental Health Studies, JSI Research & Training Institute,
Inc. (Boston, MA)

Anne Rabe
Citizens* Environmental Coalition (Albany, NY)

George C. Jeffrey
Citizens Reaction Against Pollution (Jacksonville, FL)

Michael R. Meuser
Clary-Meuser Research Associates
(Santa Cruz, CA)

Sally Merha
Concerned Neighbors in Action (Riverside, CA)

Bob Shavelson
Cook Inlet Keeper (Homer, AK)

Stephen Brittle
Don*t Waste Arizona, Inc.
(Phoenix, AZ)

Charles Griffith
Ecology Center of Ann Arbor
(Ann Arbor, MI)

Karyn J. Jones
G.A.S.P. (Umatilla, OR)

Bowden Quinn
Grand Calumet Task Force (Whiting, IN)

Richard Spotts
Green Onion Resource Center (Ashland, WI)

Rob Cedar
HEAT-Hamtramck Environmental Action Team (Hamtramck, MI)

Jane Nogaki
New Jersey Right to Know & Act Coalition (Trenton, NJ)

Rick Engler
New Jersey Work Environment Council (Trenton, NJ)

Sandy Buchanan
Ohio Citizen Action (Cleveland, OH)

Lisa Brenner
Oregon Clearinghouse for Pollution Reduction (Portland, OR)

Charlotte J. Read
Save the Dunes Council
(Michigan City, IN)

Ted Smith
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
(San Jose, CA)