EPA Uses Online Forum To Address TRI Mining Changes

October 21, 2009

EPA seems to be making efforts to use social media to improve public participation in its decisions, says the watchdog group OMB Watch.

The big case in point is the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) — which has been the meat-and-potatoes of environmental computer-assisted reporting for almost two decades. The Bush administration had cut the toxics information available to the public way back. It did so partly driven by the fury of the mining industry at the Clinton administration's inclusion of mining waste among the toxics that had to be reported.

EPA is now re-doing the rules for how mining waste is handled under TRI. Before proposing a rule change, it is gathering input from stakeholders through an online "Stakeholder Forum" on "TRI Reporting and Metal Mining." The forum is cast in the form of a blog, where EPA posts topics, and public users can comment on the topics.

OMB Watch cites the TRI forum as an example of several EPA efforts to use social media for public participation. Another example is development of a new "Clean Water Enforcement Action Plan." Whether the effort will live up to its promise, however, remains to be seen. OMB Watch notes, regarding the clean water forum: "The agency has not responded to any comments, creating a one-way flow of information and failing to engage the public in dialogue."