The League’s History
While fighting for a broad range of environmental legislation, the League has stressed citizen participation as a necessary component of decision-making at all levels of government.
In pressing for full implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970, the League fought for greater citizen access to state plans for achieving national ambient air-quality standards. League efforts to educate and involve the public in waste management issues at the state and local levels have included support for mandatory beverage container deposit legislation, known as “bottle bills,” to promote recycling and reuse. In supporting the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, Leagues pushed for adequate state consultation and concurrence in nuclear-waste repository siting decisions. In statements to the nuclear regulatory community, state LWVs emphasized the need for citizen participation in nuclear power decisions.
League efforts to promote household-hazardous-waste collection across the country, to ensure safe drinking water for all and to protect groundwater also are part of a continuing focus on heightening citizen awareness and participation in decision making.
Passage of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (SARA Title III) gave Leagues a new tool to combat pollution. This act gives communities access to information from chemical facilities on releases and spills, allows “regulation by information” and encourages the development of emergency response plans and strong pollution prevention measures by industry. During the 1990s, the League continued the fight, advocating expansion of community right-to-know provisions in the renewal of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). It was also successful in defeating congressional efforts to pass “regulatory reform” legislation aimed at crippling the adoption and enforcement of environmental protection regulations.
In 1996, the League joined 24 public interest organizations in supporting the President’s move to phase out the use of methyl bromide, an extremely toxic pesticide. Also, the LWVUS and 84 national, international and local organizations jointly urged Congress to cosponsor the Children’s Environmental Protection Act of 1997 (CEPA), which sought to ensure a citizen’s right to know if there are harmful toxins in the environment.
In 1996, the Department of Energy asked the LWVEF to help develop a National Dialogue on Nuclear Materials and Waste Management. Pilot field workshops were held in 1997, but the Dialogue was opposed by some environmentalists and state officials. The LWVEF held two intersite discussions in San Diego and Chicago on nuclear material and waste in 1998 and issued a report.
The League’s Position
The League believes that public understanding and cooperation are essential to the responsible and responsive management of our nation’s natural resources. The public has a right to know about pollution levels, dangers to health and the environment, and proposed resource management policies and options. The public has a right to participate in decision-making at each phase in the process and at each level of government involvement. Officials should make a special effort to develop readily understandable procedures for public involvement and to ensure that the public has adequate information to participate effectively. Public records should be readily accessible at all governmental levels. Adequate funding is needed to ensure opportunities for public education and effective public participation in all aspects of the decision-making process.
The appropriate level of government should publicize, in an extensive and timely manner and in readily available sources, information about pollution levels, pollution-abatement programs, and resource management policies and options. Hearings should be held in easily accessible locations, at convenient times and, when possible, in the area concerned. The hearing procedures and other opportunities for public comment should actively encourage citizen participation in decision-making.
The League supports public education that provides a basic understanding of the environment and the social, economic and environmental costs and benefits of environmental protection, pollution control and conservation.
Mechanisms for citizen appeal must be guaranteed, including access to the courts. Due process rights for the affected public and private parties must be assured.