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Environmental Information

The Toxics Release Inventory, Stakeholder Participation, and the Right to Know - Part I

Alexander Volokh, Kenneth Green and Lynn Scarlett
December 1, 1998

Executive Summary

Environmental-information initiatives, including “right-to-know” laws, currently enjoy widespread popularity. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has expanded its Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a database of chemical releases and some chemical uses, and further expansion of the TRI to include “materials accounting” is under consideration. The information generated by right-toknow laws, especially TRI data, has found many different uses. The federal government, and some state governments, use it to track their environmental progress. Journalists write about it; researchers analyze it; environmental groups lobby on the basis of it; and companies and industry groups discuss it in their annual reports. But in terms of securing greater environmental quality and communicating meaningful information about the environment, the TRI process has substantial limitations, as discussed in Part One of this two-part study. Some of the TRI limitations identified in part One of this study include:

This study summarizes the current state of alternative environmental information and environmental management systems, and compares them with traditional environmental information and environmental management measures, such as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, TRI and Proposition 65. Some of those alternative systems include:

After reviewing the available alternative environmental information and environmental management systems in development, this study concludes that government, at this point, cannot identify the optimal environmental information or environmental management systems that best address the needs of all the stakeholders. Government should, we conclude, allow and encourage the discovery process to continue, a process in which different reporting and participation mechanisms emerge and compete to provide useful information at reasonable cost. Companies and communities are constantly experimenting with different instruments to determine which ones best serve their needs.

Should government choose not to facilitate this process, they should at least refrain from foreclosing the development of such options by mandating a one-size-fits-all reporting scheme—such as a dramatically expanded TRI—that may offer information that is not always directed at disclosing potential harms to the public or ecosystems.


Alexander Volokh is Associate Professor of Law

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