Action Alert: Defend Our Right-To-Know
Fair Use Statement
Please sign on by responding to Paul Orum at
Links to referenced Federal Register documents
DEFEND OUR RIGHT-TO-KNOW.
PLEASE SIGN ON TO THE LETTER BELOW.
Deadline June 9
[O] The Clinton Administration is studying a sweeping
initiative to reduce reporting burden on industries
under environmental laws.
[O] In this process, the chemical industry and others
are actively promoting anti-right-to-know ideas.
[O] We invite you to sign-on to the letter below, in
which we take exception to the Administration's burden
reduction initiative and propose better alternatives
for environmental information reform.
TO SIGN ON:
Please provide the information below. We will send
the letter "signed" by many groups. Please provide:
1] Your name
2] Your organization's name (you must represent one)
3] Your postal mailing address
4] Your phone and e-mail address.
Please respond to firstname.lastname@example.org (or 202-546-2461
fax) by JUNE 9.
We will send you a copy of the final letter upon
For more information, see the Federal Register pages
cited in the letter (65 FR 25004 and 64 FR 32859) [linked above],
which are available on-line through the Library of
HERE'S THE LETTER:
[Final Draft Version, June 1, 2000]
John Spotila, Administrator
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
Office of Management and Budget
350 Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Washington, DC 20503
Dear Administrator Spotila:
Our organizations submit this letter in response to
the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs’
(OIRA) burden reduction initiatives noticed in the
Federal Register (65 FR 25004 and 64 FR 32859). This
letter raises our serious concerns about potential
changes to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and the
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). We
also propose constructive alternatives.
Our organizations strongly support "proactive"
environmental information reform. Proactive
initiatives reduce burdens on both providers and users
of environmental information. Further, proactive
initiatives improve government capacity to accomplish
Our organizations vigorously oppose OIRA’s burden
reduction initiative as it is currently designed.
This initiative could aid regulated entities only
minimally while further reducing the public's
right-to-know and weakening protections for public
health and the environment. In this initiative, OIRA
asks, "what information can the government get rid
of?" instead of "what information do people need to
protect public health and the environment, and how can
they get it most efficiently?" As currently designed,
OIRA's initiative does not focus as intended on
"improving the quality of information agencies collect
while minimizing the collection burden particularly
through the use of information technology." (65 FR
25004, emphasis added)
STATUTORY REQUIREMENTS AND COMMON SENSE DEMAND
Statutory requirements and common sense demand that
OIRA’s burden reduction initiatives increase program
effectiveness and reduce burdens on the public and
regulated entities. The "Paperwork Reduction Act"
(PRA) and the "Government Performance and Results Act"
(GPRA) require that government agencies create
information management systems that are easily used by
regulated entities, government, and the public to
produce integrated, results-oriented data.
The PRA’s "purposes" and its requirements for "burden"
reduction, "information resources management,” the
“collection of information,” and the “control of
paperwork” demand that OIRA reduce burdens on
individuals who access publicly available government
information, not merely regulated entities.
Accordingly, OIRA’s actions also must promote the
goals of agency programs and efficacious information
management. OIRA can accomplish both of these goals,
as well as reducing burden on regulated entities and
the public, by undertaking a proactive approach to
environmental information management.
A proactive approach to environmental information
reform broadly includes:
“smart reporting software,”
a unified national facility identification
cross-program databasing (that integrates all
relevant information from all programs and agencies),
one-stop reporting and data retrieval,
goal-oriented data needs assessments
(assessing data gaps and delivery systems), and
open, participatory planning processes.
Importantly, even regulated entities have supported
proactive initiatives, including cross-program
databasing, one-stop reporting, and electronic
reporting. Proactive reforms can increase the value
of information by making it more useful to both
regulators and the public, and can help improve data
quality by increasing the use of collected
information. The greatest benefits may derive from
integrating EPA databases and from integrating
reporting across entire corporations.
Likewise, under GPRA, agencies must develop high
quality, results oriented, cross-program data
integration systems. The General Accounting Office
and the Inspector General of the Environmental
Protection Agency have noted numerous problems with
EPA’s data quality and information management systems.
In order to address these problems, EPA should
develop a proactive information management system, not
simply reduce the amount of information used to
determine compliance with the law.
Ultimately, OIRA’s “burden reduction initiatives” are
better described as “information reduction projects”
because they will decrease the amount of useable
information, rather than increasing the utility of
collected data. This is a 1980s response to a
twenty-first century problem. Unfortunately, OIRA’s
response threatens to weaken key reporting and
record-keeping requirements that protect public health
and environmental quality, and that supply the public
with vital information, as described below. Rather
than undercutting protections, OIRA should usher in a
new era of information management by emphatically
embracing the proactive agenda discussed above.
OIRA’S BURDEN REDUCTION INITIATIVES ARE
"REACTIVE" AND UNBALANCED
OIRA’s burden reduction initiatives, particularly
under TRI and RCRA, will result in only minimal
benefits to regulated entities, while increasing
public burdens and weakening public protections. This
could undercut the core purposes of these vital
programs, rather than building on past successes with
proactive innovations. Certainly, some of the
proposals are of indeterminate origin and do not merit
the special hearings that OMB has afforded them.
OIRA’s Proposals for TRI Undercut Public Right-To-Know
Without Reducing Burden
OIRA’s proposal to require that regulated entities
only report significant changes in emissions from the
prior year would undercut the public’s right-to-know
about toxic emissions without any appreciable
reduction in reporting burden and would exacerbate
current TRI data inaccuracies. There would be little,
if any burden reduction because industries must still
determine if there has been a significant change in
emissions. This determination remains the most
substantial aspect of reporting.
Other similarly problematic proposals were discussed
at the April forum, including biannual or tri-annual
TRI reporting. These modifications would severely
weaken the TRI program. Currently, there is a
two-year time lag between submission of TRI data and
its public release. A two or three year interval
between reporting cycles would increase that lag to a
truly appalling four or five-year delay. Time series
tracking is a fundamental attribute of TRI, used by
government, industries, and the public alike to track
successful emissions reductions. This attribute must
be retained through annual TRI reporting. TRI is
already a small island of successful information
disclosure in a vast sea of environmental ignorance.
More than twenty exemptions, thresholds, and
restrictions already limit the TRI program (see
attachment). These regressive proposals would magnify
these current TRI limitations.
OIRA’s RCRA Initiatives Would Undercut Protections
OIRA’s proposal to delete from data submission 100
requirements under RCRA, yet still require data
generation and analysis, would accomplish little
burden reduction. As industry has stated, most burden
is associated with analysis, not reporting. However,
the proposal could seriously weaken protections for
public health and the environment, and the public’s
right-to-know, because even submitting information to
agencies creates a deterrent effect on regulated
entities. Even OIRA’s notice acknowledges that
failing to require data submission provides an
incentive for regulated entities to flout the law.
Unfortunately, it would also increase the difficulty
of deciding where to focus scarce enforcement
resources and how to accomplish enforcement goals.
OIRA’s proposal to altogether delete 100 of RCRA’s
substantive requirements suffers from similar and even
worse problems. It would eliminate protections that
discourage generators, transporters, and storage and
disposal facilities from mismanaging or illegally
disposing of hazardous waste. The federal government
should not promote such policies. If a rationale for
eliminating these requirements is that agencies have
trouble keeping track of information, and consequently
fail to consistently use it, then this highlights a
need to proactively manage information, not reduce
information that should be used to ensure compliance.
Developing a proactive information management system
would better address the problem, while increasing
program efficiency and effectiveness.
We also urge EPA and OMB to retain all protective
aspects of reporting on RCRA worker training
requirements that are not included in the
corresponding OSHA requirements. These include
"groundwater contamination incidents", "automatic
waste feed cut-off systems", and "shut down of
operations". Given the lack of effective training to
hazardous waste workers, the deletion of record
keeping requirements in section d(3) would further
weaken the current level of training. Rather than
reduce reporting, we urge EPA and OSHA to improve
enforcement of both RCRA and OSHA requirements.
OIRA Should Focus On Efficiently Reducing Burdens
OIRA should focus its burden reduction efforts on
those agencies with the greatest potential for burden
reduction, rather than mandating that each agency
reduce reporting burdens by 40 percent. Focusing
burden reduction efforts is consistent with the PRA’s
statutory requirements and principles of responsible
management. Section 3505 of the PRA requires a
“Governmentwide goal” for reducing information
collection burden by 40 percent, by the year 2001.
The term “Governmentwide” clearly means that the
entire government, but not each agency, should reduce
information collection burden by 40 percent. Section
3506(h) of the PRA supports this interpretation
because it clearly distinguishes between the terms
“Governmentwide” and “agency,” as these terms relate
to information “management policies, principles,
standards, and guidelines.” Consequently, it is clear
that Congress never intended that each agency reduce
its information collection requirements by 40 percent.
Distinguishing between “Governmentwide” and
agency-specific information collection reductions is
grounded on sound principles of responsible
management. Forcing all agencies to reduce their
information collection requirements by equal amounts
could eviscerate a lean agency’s enforcement
capabilities while ignoring obvious opportunities at
Further, the PRA specifically states that burden
reduction efforts should “foster greater sharing,
dissemination and access to public information.” EPA
can most constructively meet this goal by developing
"smart reporting software," electronic reporting, and
integrated national databases.
The EPA accounts for only about 1.6 percent of the
governmentwide information collection burden, while
the Internal Revenue Service accounts for about 80
percent. Importantly, over the last decade, EPA’s
budgets have been cut in relation to the agency's
responsibilities. Clearly, OIRA should focus on
ensuring efficient, tailored burden reductions goals
on an agency by agency basis, rather than rely on the
administratively easy yet fundamentally flawed path of
an across the board cut of 40 percent by each agency.
CONSOLIDATED EMISSIONS REPORTING WILL HELP EPA CREATE
A UNIFORM, NATIONAL REPOSITORY OF HAZARDOUS AIR
Our organizations generally support initiatives to
consolidate and improve reporting on criteria and
hazardous air pollutants. More accurate and complete
air pollution data will help people understand and
address pollution problems. Consolidated reporting
will reduce burdens on regulated entities, will help
provide consistent national data, and, will reduce
burdens on people who obtain and use this information.
Many states already collect information on air
pollutants, but these data are generally inconsistent,
incomplete, and not readily comparable. Synchronized
reporting timelines and formats across the state and
federal levels will reduce industry burden and improve
government efficiency. Consolidated emissions
reporting will help EPA create a consistent national
repository of emissions data to help government,
industry, and the public gauge progress on clean air
and GPRA goals.
EPA AND OMB SHOULD USE CAUTION WHEN ESTIMATING BURDEN
Our organizations urge OIRA and other agencies,
including EPA, to use caution when estimating
regulatory burdens. Since many environmental programs
are delegated to states, estimating burdens can be
difficult. However, inflated burden estimates could
misinform burden reduction efforts, and thereby
undermine enforcement and public health protections.
Where questions of accuracy arise, the agency should
err on the side of protecting public health and the
Our organizations stand ready to work with OIRA to
develop forward-looking environmental information
Co-signing organizations, including...
Working Group on Community Right-to-Know
National Environmental Trust
Working Group on Community Right-to-Know
218 D Street, SE; Washington, DC 20003
Phone: 202-544-9586; Fax: 202-546-2461
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