How Can You Get More Information about the Problem?
Generally, the more information you have about an environmental problem, the easier it will be to convince other people and the government that the problem exists and that it deserves attention. To obtain more information and to create as complete a picture of the problem as possible, you can use a variety of sources. Examples of sources are the government, your local community, and industry.
To use the government as a source of information, you need to know how your local, regional, and national governments work in the environmental arena -- both in general, and with respect to the particular problem that concerns you.
- Find out whether the government is required to give you certain information and the procedures for requesting such information.
- Is there a law that requires the government to give you certain information if you request it (for example, a freedom of information act, a public records law)? Try to obtain a copy of the law and learn how to use it.
- Is there a law that requires the government to notify you about certain decisions (for example, whether to issue a permit), or about regulations that it is developing to implement environmental laws? Try to obtain a copy.
- Is there a law that requires the government to publish periodic reports on environmental conditions, data, and/or issues? Try to obtain copies of the law as well as the periodic reports. Reports from previous years may also be informative.
- Find out the national, regional, and local governments' organizational structures for making environmental decisions.
- Who runs the environmental protection and pollution control agencies and how are they organized?
- What are the roles of local, regional, and national officials in environmental decisionmaking and what kinds of powers do they have?
- Do the environmental agencies have different branches or departments -- for example, for water pollution, air pollution, hazardous waste, solid waste, nature protection? Try to obtain or make an organizational chart.
- Is there a branch which is responsible for regulating or monitoring the environmental problem that concerns you? If so, what are the laws and regulations which the branch is supposed to enforce?
- Where can these laws and regulations be found? Try to obtain copy of them.
- Does the branch or department have any records or monitoring data on the problem? Can you gain access to these records and data?
- Are there committees in your local elected government (for example, the city council) and national parliament that make decisions on environmental issues, laws and funding to implement those laws?
- If these committees exist, who are their members, how did they become members (are they elected officials?), how long do they serve on the committee, whose interests do they represent, and do they have staff persons working for them?
- Is there an ombudsman that is appointed to hear complaints from the public regarding governmental decisions?
- Find out the government's procedures for making environmental decisions and implementing environmental laws.
- What are the procedures for allowing certain activities and adopting regulations?
- Is the government required to give the public a period of time (for example, 90 days) for commenting on a proposed permit, license, environmental assessment or regulation before any of these may be issued in final form? (Such a period of time is known as a public comment period.)
- Is the government required to respond to comments that are submitted during the public comment period?
- Which entities issue environmental permits?
People in your community can be a great resource for obtaining and compiling information.
- Identify other people and NGOs in your community who may be concerned about the problem.
- What observations have they made and what knowledge do they have?
- What interests do they represent?
- Find out whether anyone in your community knows about other communities that have had a similar problem.
- What have those other communities learned about the problem and what steps have they taken to address it?
- Identify people in the community who have special expertise about the problem. Such persons may include biologists, chemists, medical doctors, legal experts, and engineers.
- Do they know of other experts elsewhere?
- What can the expert tell you about the problem?
- Identify people in the community who are directly affected by the problem (for example, someone who has a demonstrated injury from the pollution, someone who lives where a dam is to be built).
- Do they have any legal claims (for example, for personal injury)?
- Do they have special procedural rights in any relevant administrative proceedings (for example, the right to participate as a party because they are directly affected)?
- Are they interested in cooperating with you in identifying solutions to the problem?
The environmental issue about which you are concerned may relate to a privately-owned company.
- Find out whether the company (or the government) is required to give you information about the company's business and/or environmental practices (A company's business plans and financial status can sometimes be just as - if not more - important for addressing your problems as information about what pollution it is releasing.)
- Is there a law that requires the company to publish public reports about its environmental record (for example, yearly reports on toxic chemicals stored or released from the company, public disclosures of civil or criminal penalties)?
- Has the company released information on its financial status or business plans for other purposes (for example, a financial prospectus for potential buyers of company stock, an annual report for stockholders, or even information in their advertisements). Can you obtain copies of this information? (If the company has issued stock, you may wish to buy one share of the stock in order to obtain the information disseminated to Stockholders, and also to be invited to annual meetings.)
- Is the company required to report to the government about its environmental activities (for example, self-monitoring data on its pollution releases under government-issued pollution permits)? Can you obtain this information from the government through an access to government-held information law?
- Is the company required to report to the government about its business record (for example, financial disclosures for tax or stock-issue purposes)? Can you obtain this information from the government?
- Does the government have any other records on this company that you can obtain through access to information laws (for example, records of enforcement actions taken, fines issued against the company, permit applications)?
- Is there information about the company available through the chamber of commerce or union of employees?
- Are any employees of the company willing to discuss with you their knowledge of the company's environmental practices and plans?
- Find out about the ownership and management structure of the company.
- Who owns the company? Is it owned by a few individuals, or has it issued stock to the public?
- Who controls the management of the company? Does the President make the important decisions of the company? Is there a Board of Directors? What is their role? Is there a difference between who holds the power on paper and who actually makes (or influences) the important decisions?
- Does the company have a person in charge of environmental matters? What is his or her position (and power) in the company?
- Find out about the company's position in the community.
- Does the company have a reputable position in the community? Would the company be concerned that a public media campaign would hurt their reputation?
- Does the company employ a lot of people from the community? How does the labor force feel about the issue you are addressing?
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