Databases Established for Environmental Laws
EPA's Environmental Justice Data
Envirofacts. EPA's Envirofacts website (http://www.epa.gov/enviro/) is a good first stop in your online research. It compiles data from several databases. With a single search, you can find information about the following kinds of sites in your area:
- contaminated sites;
- facilities with air pollution permits under the Clean Air Act;
- facilities with water pollution permits under the Clean Water Act;
- facilities where leaks of toxic substances have occurred;
- facilities that are permitted to use toxic substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act; and
- facilities with permits to use radioactive substances.
The website allows you to access any recent reports on these facilities. The EnviroMapper feature allows you to generate a map of regulated sites. http://www.epa.gov/emefdata/em4ef.home
In addition, Envirofacts provides a portal into many of the databases listed under "specific issues," below.
EJView. EJView is the primary tool for creating maps that show environmental justice issues. It can display in a single map information about permitted facilities, demographics, health, air quality, and more. These maps are both research tools and striking visual images that can help educate others. http://epamap14.epa.gov/ejmap/entry.html
Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO). EPA's ECHO database (http://www.epa-echo.gov/echo/) can help you figure out whether the facilities in your neighborhood are following the law. It provides information on enforcement actions taken by state or federal officials against the facility.
Window to My Environment. This EPA site provides a snapshot of environmental quality and public health at any location in the United States. http://www.epa.gov/myenvironment/
EPA EJ Listserv. This listserv distributes information about funding opportunities and community outreach calls. https://lists.epa.gov/read/all_forums/subscribe?name=epa-ej
Specific issues regulated by environmental laws
The following web resources track EPA's implementation of particular environmental laws. For more information about the relevant laws, consult the supplement to this handbook, Environmental Laws and Alternative Dispute Resolution: Tools for Environmental Justice.
Water. EPA, in cooperation with states and other federal agencies, maintains an Index of Watershed Indicators site (also known as "Surf Your Watershed"), which provides detailed information about local watersheds around the country. Information about specific watersheds can be identified by clicking on a series of increasingly detailed maps, and the site includes a wide range of data and other information about watershed health and environmental threats. You can find information on which waters are impaired and undergoing restoration efforts; the identity and location of facilities that release toxic chemicals, and what they release; the identity and location of Superfund sites, hazardous waste sites, community water sources, and permitted sources of air and water pollution; and the identity of other local citizen groups.
- Web resource: http://water.epa.gov/type/watersheds/index.cfm
- Relevant law: Clean Water Act (CWA)
Air. EPA has several different web resources that provide information related to the Clean Air Act (CAA).
- The first important web resource is EPA's AirExplorer website, which provides information about the air quality in different cities and towns. You can see the data in a variety of ways, including maps and graphs. http://www.epa.gov/airexplorer/
- AirCompare is an easy-to-use tool that can compare the air quality in neighboring counties. http://www.epa.gov/aircompare/
- You can find information about the sources of air pollution in a particular state or county using the mapping features at http://www.epa.gov/air/emissions/where.htm
- Finally, EPA maintains an air toxics clearinghouse that maintains technical information on control technologies, risk assessments, monitoring and modeling, and emissions measurement techniques. This Technology Transfer Network Air Toxics site may be useful for communities that are searching for a technological solution to air quality problems. http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw
Contaminated sites. EPA has multiple resources you can use to learn about contaminated sites in your community. First, you can locate contaminated sites using the "Cleanups in My Community" tool.
- Web resource: http://iaspub.epa.gov/apex/cimc/f?p=255:63:4062928098409071
- Relevant laws: Superfund (CERCLA), RCRA, and the EPA brownfields program
If you are interested in a particular Superfund site, you can use EPA's CERCLIS database to learn about the site's history and any cleanup activities.
- Web resource: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/cursites/
- Relevant laws: Superfund (CERCLA)
Hazardous Waste. Envirofacts' portal into the RCRAInfo database provides information about hazardous waste facilities.
- Web resource: http://www.epa.gov/enviro/facts/rcrainfo/search.html
- Relevant laws: Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
Pesticides. EPA, together with the Department of Agriculture, maintains a database containing annual reports on agricultural and non-agricultural pesticide use.
- Web resource: http://www.ams.usda.gov/science/pdp/index.htm
- Relevant law: Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)
Drinking water. EPA maintains a national database of the occurrence of contaminants in public drinking water systems, whether or not they are regulated. This information could be used to determine whether contaminants found in your drinking water supply are unique to your community or more commonly found.
- Web resource: http://www.epa.gov/enviro/facts/sdwis/
- Relevant law: Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
Permitted use of toxic chemicals. The Toxic Substances Control Act database compiles information on potentially harmful chemicals and the facilities that are permitted to use them.
- Web resource: http://www.epa.gov/enviro/facts/tsca/tsca_search.html
- Relevant law: Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
Releases of toxic chemicals. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) contains data submitted to EPA annually about a facility's releases of toxic chemicals into the environment. This database is an excellent source of information about chemicals that are present in your community, and may provide an approximation of cumulative exposures. The online database TRI Explorer displays information by facility, chemical, area, industry, and trend.
- Web resource: http://www.epa.gov/triexplorer
- Relevant law: Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).
Radiation. Envirofacts' portal into the RADINFO database provides information about facilities that use radioactive materials.
- Web resource: http://www.epa.gov/enviro/facts/radinfo/search.html
Environmental impact statements. Federal agencies must write an "environmental impact statement" (EIS) before they can approve projects with potentially significant impacts. An EIS contains detailed analysis of the environmental and public health risks of a proposed project. The EPA maintains a database of environmental impact statements.
- Web resource: http://epa.gov/oecaerth/nepa/eisdata.html
- Relevant law: National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
Other government resources
The following resources may be important for researching environmental justice in your community, although they are not based on federal environmental laws.
Health. The main source of health information within the federal government is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency has compiled a variety of health statistics at http://www.cdc.gov/DataStatistics/. Within the CDC, a specialized agency studies the health consequences of contaminated "Superfund" sites. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/
Local health resources. Much of the most important data about community health is not available in a national online database. For local health information, contact your county health department. Contact the health agencies in neighboring counties to see how the health statistics in your county compare to the others. If the problems in your community involve chemicals that delay children's development, school board statistics will also be relevant.
Workplace health and safety. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) compiles statistics on the health and safety records of specific employers. The results of OSHA's safety inspections are also public. Finally, OSHA's website links to the industry-wide safety data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.osha.gov/oshstats/
Chemicals at your workplace. Workers have the right to know about potentially dangerous chemicals that they are exposed to at their workplace. Most often, employers fulfill their legal duties by making a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) available for each chemical. An MSDS explains a chemical's physical properties, hazards, safe handling, cleanup procedures, and first aid. Any employee can ask his employer for a copy of an MSDS for the workplace.
Transportation. The federal agency responsible for compiling statistics on transit is the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. http://www.transtats.bts.gov/
Financial disclosures. Publicly traded companies must provide a great deal of information to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in annual reports and other documents. Companies must disclose "contingent liabilities," which are financial liabilities that the company will only have to pay if some event occurs in the future. The costs of potential environmental justice issues may be contingent liabilities. The SEC has made all company reports available through its EDGAR database. http://www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml
The following websites sort government data and present it in a user-friendly format:
- http://www.rtknet.org: Helps users access and analyze data on toxic pollution, hazardous wastes, and more.
- http://www.scorecard.org: One useful feature allows you to instantly access a wide range of data on the environment in your zip code.
How to Make a Freedom of Information Act Request
United States Environmental Protection Agency
Based on EPA/100-F-97-002 October 1997.
Content Updated March 2003
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows you to obtain information from various agencies of the federal government, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The purpose of this brochure is to provide you with a brief description of your rights and the manner in which the EPA will respond to your requests under the FOIA.
The information contained in this brochure is not exhaustive or definitive. Specific requests will be governed by the provisions of the FOIA, set forth in 5 U.S.C. 552, and in the Agency's regulations implementing the Act, set forth in 40 CFR Part 2. Copies of these regulations are available at the Agency's Freedom of Information Office (Headquarters) in Washington, DC and at its regional offices.
Questions may be directed to the:
National Freedom of Information Operations Officer, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. (2822T, Washington, DC 20460; telephone (202) 566-1667. Also, questions may be directed to the regional office within your geographical jurisdiction (addresses listed under REGIONAL OFFICES).
Information You Can Obtain
In general, you can inspect or obtain copies of publicly available material maintained by the EPA through public reading facilities in the Agency's headquarters and regional offices. Also, you may electronically access information by means of the Internet via the Agency's Web site at: http://www.epa.gov. All agency records must be made available to the public under the FOIA, except for records which are:
- Properly classified as secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy;
- Related solely to internal personnel rules and practices;
- Specifically made confidential by other statutes;
- Trade secrets and commercial or financial information which is obtained from a person and is privileged or confidential;
- Inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters, except under certain circumstances;
- Personnel and medical files and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
- Records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, the release of which (a) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, (b) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trail or impartial adjudication, (c) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, (d) could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, (e) would disclose investigative techniques, and/or (f) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual;
- Information contained in or related to certain examination, operating, or condition reports concerning financial institutions;
- Certain information concerning gas or oil wells.
In addition, if the foregoing types of information may be reasonably segregated and deleted from any records, the EPA will make the remainder of that record available to you for inspection or copying, if it is not otherwise available.
Submitting Your Request
Before making a request under the FOIA, make sure the information you seek is not already available to the public in reading rooms or the Agency's Web site on the Internet. Copies of this public material can also be requested by writing to the Agency's headquarters office or to the appropriate Agency's regional office.
If the information you seek is not already available to the public, submit a written request to the National FOIA Operations Officer in Washington, DC or the Regional FOIA Officer in the appropriate regional office (addresses listed below). To assist the EPA in the processing of your request, include: (A) readable information such as your name, address, and phone number; (B) try to be as specific as possible in identifying the records sought in a way that will permit their identification and location; (C) whether payment of fees are guaranteed; and (D) if fees are incurred, you will be required to provide a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), if requesting information on behalf of a company/organization or Social Security Number (SSN), if requesting information as a private citizen which is required under the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996.
Generally, you have a right to a decision with regard to the release of the requested records within 20 working days of receipt of your inquiry and the EPA makes every effort to meet this time frame. However, due to the complexity of certain requests, the agency may take a substantially longer time to fully respond to a request.
If your request is initially denied in whole or in part, in accordance with exemptions provided by the FOIA, you will be advised of your right to appeal. Generally, you will have a right to a decision on the appeal within 20 working days of receipt.
All requests made under the FOIA are a matter of public record and may be placed in the Agency's public files.
Inspection of Records
Records requested (in writing) under the FOIA can be made available for inspection at the Agency's headquarters office in Washington, DC or at the Agency's regional offices.
Actual production and/or copying of records should be arranged with the staff after it is determined that records are in fact accessible.
Search, Review and Copy Charges
With certain specific exceptions authorized by the FOIA Reform Act of 1986, a fee will generally be charged when more than one-half staff hour of work is devoted to locating, reviewing and making available for inspection or copying records requested pursuant to the FOIA. These fees will recoup the full allowable direct costs incurred. In accordance with the EPA's revised FOIA regulations (40 CFR 2.100, et. seq.), effective November 5, 2002, the Agency's fees for processing requests have changed. The new fee schedule is as follows:
- Clerical staff time billed at $4.00 per 15 minutes of search and/or review;
- Professional staff time billed at $7.00 per 15 minutes of search and/or review;
- Managers' time billed at $10.25 per 15 minutes of search and/or review;
- Duplication charges at $.15 per page;
- No fee will be charged for services at or below $14.00;
- Assurance of payment of fees above $25.00 will be obtained from the requester before commencing any work;
- Advance payment of fees above $250 may be required by the Agency before commencing any work; and
- Any other services not listed above, such as certification of documents or priority mail, will be charged the direct costs.
The EPA may determine to waive or reduce fees in cases where furnishing the information primarily benefits the general public by significantly assisting citizens in understanding how their government works. Requests for waiver or reduction of fees should be submitted with the requests for records under the FOIA. Please include in any waiver request relevant facts or arguments, which might support the request.
More information is available at: http://www.epa.gov/foia/broc.htm
Sample Freedom of Information Act Request Letter
The following generic example of a federal FOIA request letter is adapted from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records, App. A (2005).
In addition, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has a website that can help you generate your own FOIA letter, by inserting information specific to your situation. See http://www.rcfp.org/foi_letter/generate.php
Agency Head [or Freedom of Information Act Officer]
Name of Agency
Address of Agency
City, State, Zip Code
Re: Freedom of Information Act Request
Dear [Agency Official]:
This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. §552. I request that a copy of the following documents [or documents containing the following information] be provided to me: [Identify the documents or information as specifically as possible].
[Optional] I request a waiver of all fees for this request. Disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in my commercial interest. [Include specific details, including how the requested information will be disseminated by the requester for public benefit.]
[Optional] I am willing to pay fees for this request up to a maximum of $[fill in]. If you estimate that the fees will exceed this limit, please inform me first.
[Optional] I request that the information I seek be provided in electronic format, and I would like to receive it on a CD.
[Optional] I also include a telephone number at which I can be contacted during the hours of [fill in], if necessary, to discuss any aspect of my request.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
City, State, Zip Code
Telephone number [Optional]
Organizations Active in Environmental Justice
This list includes regional and national organizations and coalitions. Local groups are also active across the country, but only groups that are organized into larger coalitions are listed here. Similarly, this list does not include the names of private consultants, though many effective consultants work on environmental justice issues.
- Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ)
DSCEJ develops minority leadership in the areas of environmental, social, and economic justice along the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor.
- Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University
Supports, trains and educates people of color professionals and community leaders to help them move into the mainstream of environmental decisionmaking. See also the Center's extensive annotated bibliography on environmental justice.
- Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE)
Works in partnership with communities of color and low-income communities to achieve environmental justice. ACE provides legal and technical support, educational programs, and organizing assistance to community groups throughout New England.
- Environmental Support Center
Provides grassroots environmental justice groups with low-interest loans, money to pay for training and consulting, and technology assessments and equipment.
- New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYCEJA)
NYCEJA is a city-wide network that links grassroots organizations, low-income neighborhoods, and communities of color in their struggle for environmental justice.
- Indigenous Environmental Network
Educates and assists North American Indigenous communities in organizing around environmental and economic justice issues.
- Community Coalition for Environmental Justice
CCEJ's mission is to achieve environmental and economic justice in low-income communities and communities of color. They are a coalition to improve air quality in South Seattle, Washington.
- Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (SNEEJ)
Brings together activists and grassroots organizations from across the Southwest and the northern border states of Mexico to broaden regional strategies and organize on environmental and economic justice issues.
- Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)
APEN works on environmental justice issues facing Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the United States, through grassroots community organizing and networking with other environmental justice organizations.
- Environmental Justice Coalition for Water
A California coalition of environmental justice groups working on clean water issues.
- Communities for a Better Environment
Provides legal and movement-building support to environmental justice groups in Northern and Southern California.
- Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT)
ACAT is a statewide organization working for environmental health and justice through support and assistance to communities and Native tribes in Alaska.
- Misiòn Industrial de Puerto Rico
Supports community struggles in search of environmental and economic justice, sustainability. P.O. Box 363728 San Juan, PR 00936-3728 Phone: 787-462-5088 Fax: 787-754-6462
- Center for Health, Environment and Justice
Works with grassroots community groups on issues such as: toxic waste, solid waste, air pollution, incinerators, medical waste and industrial pollution.
- Environmental Law Institute (ELI)
ELI publishes research on a variety of environmental law and policy issues for lawyers and community members. ELI has published environmental justice handbooks on working with lawyers, dealing with SLAPP suits, and enforcing environmental laws in the U.S.-Mexico border region.
- Data Center
The Data Center provides research and information to community-based organizations working for social, environmental, and economic justice.
Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all. Earthjustice maintains nine regional offices around the country.
- Farmworker Network for Economic and Environmental Justice
A coalition of farm worker organizations that works to improve safety, health, and economic well-being for farmworkers; strengthens and builds farmworker organizations and communities by promoting self-representation for workers and their families; supports the sustainability and retainability of agriculture; assures higher standards of safety and quality in agricultural products for consumers; and makes farmworkers more visible as a vital workforce for environmental justice by contributing data, insight, and strategic action to the environmental justice movement.
Greenfaith offers access to different kinds of resources to educate and mobilize religious communities to seek environmental justice.
- Just Transition Alliance
A coalition of environmental justice and labor organizations that work with frontline workers and community members who live along the fence-line of polluting industries to create healthy workplaces and communities. They focus on contaminated sites that should be cleaned up and on the transition to clean production and sustainable economies.
- Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights
Established in 1991, the Environmental Justice Project works with the private bar to represent and advocate on behalf of communities of color that are challenging environmentally discriminatory conditions and decisions.
- Global Community Monitor (also known as the Bucket Brigade)
Global Community Monitor trains and supports communities in the use of environmental monitoring tools to understand the impact of fossil-fuel-industry pollution on their health and the environment.
Publications and Web Resources on Community-Based Research
- Community Environmental Health Assessment Workbook: A Guide to Evaluating Your Community's Health and Finding Ways to Improve It, Environmental Law Institute, 2000.
- Toolkit for Assessing Potential Allegations of Environmental Injustice, EPA, 2004.
- Promoting Healthy Public Policy through Community-Based Participatory Research: Ten Case Studies, UC Berkeley School of Public Health and PolicyLink.
- Speaking Truth, Creating Power: A Guide to Policy Work for Community-Based Participatory Research Practitioners, Cassandra Ritas, Hunter College Center on Aids, Drugs and Community Health, 2003.
- The University of Washington's Skill-Building Curriculum
The curriculum is designed to explain the basic principles of community-based research and help people develop research strategies, build partnerships, and meet common challenges.
- Action Research, University of Wisconsin
Catalogues CBR resources, tools, training, data, and web advice.
- Community Tool Box, the University of Kansas
The Tool Box is a guide to building healthy communities, from the first steps of understanding a problem to creating effective partnerships and assessing progress.
Provides an overview, history, and criticism of community-based research.
Web Resources on Grants
- Seifer SD, Kauper-Brown J and Robbins A. Directory of Funding Sources for Community-Based Participatory Research. Seattle, WA and Portland, OR: Community-Campus Partnerships for Health and The Northwest Health Foundation, June 25, 2004.
- Tips & Strategies for Developing Strong Community-Based Participatory Research Proposals, Sarena D. Seifer, Community-Campus Partnerships for Health, 2005.
- Environmental Justice small grant program
- Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program
- Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) grants http://www.epa.gov/care/
- EPA/CDC/ATSDR Federal Grants Guide for Community and Public Health Activities
- Your state may provide grants to help community groups learn about troublesome environmental conditions. For example, New York's Brownfield Cleanup Program has technical assistance grants for non-profits. http://www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/2590.html
Guides to private foundations:
Guide to grant writing:
- Writing a Grant Application for Funding: The Community Tool Box, a service of the University of Kansas
Sample Letter to Initiate ADR
Name of Company
Address of Company
City, State, Zip Code
Re: Invitation to participate in alternative dispute resolution (ADR)
Dear [Company Official]:
We are the [Fill in the name of your organization], and we represent the community of [Fill in the name of your neighborhood]. We have formed a committee to investigate the impact of your activities on our environment and our health.
In our community, [Include a description of conditions in your community].
Our research shows [Include a summary of key research findings]. There is widespread community concern about the impact of your activities, and we are initiating a series of meetings to share our findings with the community.
We would like to be able to offer a strategy to address these serious problems. [If there is a suspected legal violation, you can suggest using ADR as an alternative to a lawsuit.] We believe the best strategy would be to enter into an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process with you. ADR can be mutually beneficial because we can collaborate to solve these problems more quickly and creatively than has been possible in the past. We invite you to work with us to design an ADR process that will meet everyone's needs.
Please let us know by [fill in a date] whether you are willing to enter into an ADR process. [Consider describing how the community might respond if they do not respond.] Your cooperation in this matter is much appreciated.
Name of your organization
City, State, Zip Code
Telephone number [Optional]
For more guidance on initiating ADR, see Part 2.