An Agenda to Strengthen Our Right to Know: Empowering Citizens with Environmental, Health, and Safety Information
Public engagement and access to environmental and public health information are vital democratic tools. A lack of government openness impairs everything from preventing – and cleaning up – oil spills to protecting children from toxic chemicals. The need to break down information barriers and bring the public back into the policymaking process is greater than ever. A lack of access to quality information – and to policymakers – hurts people and the landscapes we cherish and depend on.
Today, individuals and governments at all levels are facing various environmental and public health dilemmas. Dealing with these issues requires open and accountable government processes; expanded and improved data collection, analysis, and distribution; and greater public engagement. Such improvements are needed in order to tackle the full spectrum of threats, from identifying the health hazards of the tens of thousands of chemicals in commerce, to improved monitoring of pollution, to filling the huge data gaps in our climate policies.
After more than a year of work, a broad coalition of groups and individuals active in protecting human and environmental health have taken a major step on the path toward greater government transparency and public participation. These public interest advocates have produced a comprehensive list of policy recommendations that would greatly strengthen our right to know and increase the government’s level of community engagement. The recommendations outlined in this document are an action plan for the federal government; a plan that is bold yet feasible, ambitious yet realistic. Now the opportunity to advance this proactive agenda is upon us. We call on our leaders and decision makers to take up this call to action and ensure that every person in the country has access to the information needed to make decisions that enable all of us to live, work, play, and learn within a healthy environment.
Three priority themes emerge from among the numerous recommendations developed by the participants in this process.
- Environmental justice must always be considered
- Health risks from chemicals need to be better tracked and communicated to the public
- Public participation has to start with the government
The recommendations within this report offer opportunities for immediate action by the federal government, as well as steps that would require longer time frames. Maintaining the achievements realized through implementation of these policy recommendations will require constant monitoring and vigilance by both the agencies and the public. To begin to address the priority themes listed above, certain policy recommendations should be considered immediately.
- Increase the collection and distribution of environmental justice data
- Fill data gaps on the harm from chemicals, as well as address information shortfalls on safer alternatives
- Ensure product labels disclose all ingredients and their associated risks
- Forge the Toxics Release Inventory into a more powerful disclosure tool
- Develop a unified facility reporting system
- Provide for worker and public participation
Adoption and implementation of the recommendations cited above would represent significant progress by the federal government toward greater transparency, participation, and collaboration. The recommendations above and those found throughout this report would build on recent efforts to improve government openness, using the momentum generated to propel our government into a world where the public has the information needed to play a meaningful and vital role in protecting our health and our planet.