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Toxics Disclosure: Challenges and Victories in the States

Toxics Disclosure: Challenges and Victories in the States

Thursday, December 4, 2008

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Conference Call on Universal Voter Registration

WHAT: Call for legislators and advocates to discuss strategies for replacing our current voter-initiated registration procedures with systems designed to register every eligible voter. Hear from the leading advocates and a legislator about the goals, plans and successes of this growing movement.
WHO: Senator-elect Diane Rosenbaum, Oregon Senate
Wendy Weiser, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice
Rob Richie, Director of FairVote
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist at PSN
WHEN: Friday December 5, 1pm EST
DIAL-IN: (800) 391-1709, Login Code 709424
RSVP: http://www.progressivestates.org/conferencecallrsvp

Increasing-Democracy


 

Toxics Disclosure: Challenges and Victories in the States

Recently, in New Jersey, Governor Jon Corzine's administration proposed rule changes that threaten to prevent the public from accessing key environmental information about potential hazardous facilities in the state.  Advocates say the environmental information that would be withheld would block public access to information that estimates the number of people who would be put at risk "if a toxic chemical disaster occurred at any of the state regulated 12 sites or any of the 85 state sites under federal oversight."

The state Department of Environmental Protection, says that improving security, not hindering transparency, is the intent behind the proposed changes.  "In this age of domestic security, there's a concern not to allow information to be released to the public that could have an adverse effect," said DEP spokeswoman Elaine Makatura.  According to David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation, "[w]e obtain the greatest chemical security by making sure companies use the least toxic alternatives and safer technology, and one way to ensure that is the public's right to know what would be the consequences of a worst-case scenario at these facilities."

The New Jersey Work Environment Council, an alliance of labor and environmental groups, are leading the fight against the Administration's efforts. "It's infuriating," said the council's director. "The state is really going backwards on toxic issues. New Jersey is clearly making a move in the direction of greater secrecy."  He states, "[e]ven the secretive Bush-Cheney EPA has not attempted to hide this vital information."  Engler also points out that enacting the proposed changes would be against federal law which says that states cannot withhold from the public information about dangerous substances that are directed to be overseen by the EPA.       

Right to Know Laws Are Important to Protect the Public Welfare:   Factories and manufacturers release significant amount of dangerous toxins into our communities through the air we breath and our water systems. Since the 1990s, environmental right to know laws have proven to be one of most effective mechanisms to protect our environment and health.  Through public disclosure of environmental information the public interest can be protected in numerous ways.  For example. communities with knowledge of potential risks can address safety issues or devise plans in case an emergency occurs and can implement incentives to encourage increased self-regulation by companies.  Further, when individuals have information regarding the environmental harms from industry in their area they can be more active participants in public welfare discussions, such as debates about permits and land use. 

Additionally, consumers armed with better information can make better decisions, press for safer drinking water and environmental conditions, and exert pressure to eliminate unnecessary toxic exposure.  Informed workers can negotiate safer, less hazardous working conditions, or demand fair compensation for undertaking risky employment. Overall, right to know laws create a more efficient marketplace by increasing transparency and public access to information.


The  federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act (EPCRA) was passed in 1986 with the intent of helping states and communities better protect the public.  The law laid out several right to know provisions such as the emission reporting system called the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).  Since 1986 the passage of the EPCRA, other federal, state (such as New YorkNorth CarolinaIllinois, and California) and local laws have led to increased information being released for public consumption.  The enacted state right to know laws have varied, some have been modeled after the federal EPCRA law, others, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey have included new reporting requirements for their TRI programs.

Appeals Court Decision Gives Right to Know Advocates Hope: Today (and to some extent always) corporations and industry-friendly legislators are attacking environmental right to know laws, oftentimes veiling their efforts to reduce transparency and public access to information under the guise of attempting to protect national security.

Until recently, the EPA had waffled on whether to permit state and local authorities to add to federal monitoring requirements. In 2006, however -- despite protests from many environmental organizations -- the EPA decided it alone "would fix inadequate monitoring requirements." This August, however, in a victory for environmental right to know laws, a federal appeals court ruled against a rule that limited the right of states to add to the "monitoring requirements of the Clean Air Act."

Sierra Club Director Carl Pope stated, "[t]his is a huge victory against one of the most egregious rollbacks of environmental protections in our nation's history.  As one of the first rollbacks of the Bush Administration, this rule helped set a pattern of limiting the application of environmental laws to benefit polluters and denying the public the right to know about pollution in their communities. Public health should be a top priority, not polluters' profits. Today's decision will give states back the tools they need to hold polluters accountable and help ensure that everyone has clean, healthy air to breathe."

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Promoting-Justice

by Adam thompson

 

Maine Religious Leaders Mobilize Around Gay Marriage - On Both Sides of the Issue

Soon after the November elections and the dispiriting setbacks for gay marriage equality in California, Arizona, and Florida, a group of religious leaders in Maine formed a coalition to advocate for gay marriage rights and actively seek equal treatment for gay and lesbian couples within Maine law.  The group, Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Maine, includes 120 clergy from across the state and 14 different faith traditions, including United Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Unitarian Universalist, Congregational, and the United Church of Christ.

In addition to articulating the moral argument for gay marriage rights - Maine law defines marriage as between a man and a woman but the Constitution is currently mute on the matter - the coalition cited the adverse effects of discrimination against gay and lesbian couples on children and the family unit.  For instance, children in same-sex couples may lack health care and other benefits extended to children of married parents.  In related news, the state's leading gay and lesbian rights organization, EqualityMaine, has not yet decided whether to submit a bill that would allow same-sex marriage, despite reporting that a majority of new state lawmakers support extending the legal rights of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.

In response, on Tuesday, a smaller group of ministers and lay people announced a new coalition to oppose both gay marriage and civil unions in Maine.  Alongside hackneyed and pseudo-religious/tradition based arguments opposing marriage equality, the new Maine Marriage Alliance announced its goal to amend the state Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The coalition urged outreach to Catholic and Mormon churches and is already in touch with clergy in California who gained slim voter approval of Proposition 8, which revises the state Constitution to ban gay marriage in the state and overturn a Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriage.  

Glimmers of Hope for Gay Marriage and Other Rights: The fate of California's Proposition 8 is in doubt, despite narrowly passing voters by roughly a 52 to 48 margin in November.  The State Supreme Court recently announced it will hear three lawsuits arguing that Proposition 8 was illegally brought to the voters. To support the suits, progressive legislators introduced a resolution opposing Proposition 8 and reiterating the lawsuit arguments that Prop 8 amounts to an improper revision of the state Constitution because it did not receive two-thirds legislator approval before going to the voters - which is required for ballot initiatives that would radically revise - rather than amend - the state Constitution.

And in Florida, a circuit-court judge recently ruled unconstitutional a three-decade old state law banning gays and lesbians from adopting children. The state already says it will challenge the ruling. Still, this provides hope for gay and lesbian couples who want to adopt children and provide a stable home for needy children.  With recent voter-approval in Arkansas of a measure banning foster parenting and adoption by unmarried couples - effectively denying gays and lesbians the option to adopt - adoption may become a new battleground in the on-going fight for equal treatment under the law for gay and lesbian Americans.

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Valuing-Families

by Adam thompson

 

On Health Care Reform, the "Cost of Doing Nothing" - How does your state measure up?

The New America Foundation recently issued a sobering analysis of the costs associated with failing to fundamentally reform health care in the US.  The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why the Cost of Failing to Fix Our Health System is Greater than the Cost of Reform details the staggering economic costs of doing nothing and the obscene burden on families and businesses, not to mention state and local governments. The report includes state by state analyses.  For example, inaction will cost Maine families and employers more than $30,000 for the average employer-sponsored family insurance policy by 2016.  In South Carolina, half of all households will spend more than 62% of their incomes to buy insurance in 2016.  

Even if we could maintain this staggering level of spending, will our personal health benefit? The answer is, simply, "no."  We already spend more on health care per person than any other country, yet we lag far behind our peers on key health, quality, and cost of care indicators like life expectancy, preventable deaths, wait times, and administrative costs.  Driving this point home, and showing that conditions are worsening for the health of Americans, is the 2008 edition of the United Health Foundation's America's Health Rankings.  The report measures key health care metrics and ranks the states, with Vermont coming out on top.  The report also shows that gains in health status across the US have stagnated for the fourth year in a row and are poised to take a plunge.

Check out our web-report, Health Care for All: Policy Options for 2009, for detailed coverage of model state policy options to address the problems highlighted by these reports.

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Research Roundup

Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers - Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found that unionized women workers earned, on average, 11.2 percent more than their non-union peers and were much more likely to have health insurance benefits and a pension plan.  This is equivalent to an average $2.00 per hour raise or as much as a full year of college increases earnings.

Latest State-by-State Data Show Why Obama Should Scale Back His Proposal to Cut the Federal Estate Tax- Citizens for Tax Justice and state groups across the country released state by state data detailing how that less than one percent of estates nationally were subject to the federal estate tax in 2007.

A couple of new reports on poverty and policies to address it:

New reports detail challenges facing American education:

  • Measuring Up 2008-  National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education issued its annual report card and found that while most of the 50 states are making advances in preparing students for and providing access to higher education, we as a nation are falling behind other nations that are advancing more quickly.
  • Teacher Turnover, Tenure Policies, and the Distribution of Teacher Quality- Center for American Progress report details that students with a teacher in the top quartile of the talent pool achieve at levels corresponding to an additional two or three months of instruction per year compared to those top by the worst teachers. Report makes recommendations for policies to use tenure policies to bring high-quality teachers to low-income communities.

Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

Resources

Toxics Disclosure: Challenges and Victories in the States

US PIRG, Right to Know
OMB Watch, Environmental Right to Know
Center for Progressive Reform, The Public Right to Know
N.J. May Block Information on Chemical Plants
D.C. Circuit Bolsters State Monitoring of Air Pollution

Maine Religious Leaders Mobilize Around Gay Marriage - On Both Sides of the Issue

EqualityMaine - Marriage Equality
Sacramento Bee - Proposition 8: Special Section

On Health Care Reform, the "Cost of Doing Nothing" - How does your state measure up?

New America Foundation - The Cost of Doing Nothing
United Health Foundation - America's Health Rankings, 2008
Progressive States Network - While US Olympians Excel, US Health Care Under-Performs
Progressive States Network - Health Care for All: Policy Options for 2009

Masthead

The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Broadband and Economic Development Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Kayla Southworth, Privatization and Contractor Accountability Policy Associate
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

Please shoot us an email at dispatch@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

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