Rio+20 is an Opportunity to Improve the Public’s Right to Know

by Sofia Plagakis, 9/8/2011

On Sept. 2, 30 public interest organizations, including OMB Watch, presented the U.S. government with three requests to improve access to environmental and public health information and public participation in environmental policymaking. The requests aim to empower Americans to protect themselves, their families and communities from pollution and health risks through better access to data and decision-making.

The requests call on the United States to make commitments to improve domestic environmental decision-making at the United Nations (UN) Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012. As a twenty-year follow-up to the Rio Conference on Environment and Development held in 1992, the UN will convene next year to negotiate issues related to building green economies and the institutional framework for sustainable development. Our requests complement efforts by an international public interest movement, called the 3D Campaign. Groups are calling on their governments to make commitments at the Rio Conference to improve environmental policy and decision-making in their countries.

The public interest requests for the United States advance the main themes and recommendations outlined in our environmental right to know report, An Agenda to Strengthen Our Right to Know, which was endorsed by more than 100 organizations and released on May 10. Our requests outline areas where the United States can further the public’s right to know. Specifically, we ask that the federal government:

  • Initiate a federal process to review and evaluate environmental and public health information holdings in every major federal agency.
  • Identify and adopt a set of best practices on public participation for federal agencies to follow. Once developed, these documents and web-based information services should be made publicly available by posting on agency websites, Regulations.gov, and any other venue that will promote widespread availability of the information.
  • Direct federal agencies to develop and implement a component of their open government plans that focuses on priorities for regional and state offices. The components should establish the most important open government issues and set specific goals for the region or state offices to complete milestones, with target deadlines included.

We hope that the Rio Conference will be an opportunity for our government to renew major commitments on access to information and public participation at home as well as abroad.

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