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Intro and informations needs

As a long-time environmentalist who's learned about the pressing need for access to environmental information from my own advocacy work, from working with individuals and groups trying to deal with environmental issues and from serving as a volunteer on a state regulatory board, I'm happy to join the discussion on this important topic. It's a pleasure to "meet" the many knowledgeable people who have joined in the discussion!

In some ways, my response to yesterday's question has already been given by the many discussion participants. As yesterday's messages clearly indicate, people have need of a broad range of information for a wide variety of purposes.

Some people want information that will help them make environmentally sound personal decisions--recycling household materials, buying "green," purchasing a water filter, etc.

Many people also need information that will allow them to participate fully in community level environmental decisions--siting of new facilities, permitting, oversight of existing operations, watershed protection, hazardous waste cleanup, land use planning, etc. In looking at what is going on in their own community, people also generally find it helpful to look at comparative information from elsewhere--the zoning tools that have been used to help protect water quality in other communities, the environmental performance of industrial operations that are similar to the nearby facility, the cleanup standards are technologies used on polluted properties in other communities.

Still others will be looking for information that will give them a bigger picture--how polluted is our air, statewide or nationwide; what solutions to global warming are being debated and tried on a global scale; what is the incidence of diseases that may be linked to environmental factors.

People want and, I believe, deserve to be able to find the "facts" as well as the opinions of regulators and stakeholders. From that, they can draw their own conclusions, based on their values and needs and they can join in the public policy processes that affect how we care for the environment and for public health.

In general, I am convinced that the more people learn, the greater their need and desire for information. And I think we should treat that as good news, not bad. If information is organized in a way that allows the uninitiated to find their way through various levels of information and data, I believe there is little danger of offering up too much.

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