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Information Access--Surveying the Current Legal Landscape of Federal Right-to-Know Laws

August 2009

Citation: ELR 10773

Author: David C. Vladeck

In this new age of environmental law, scholars, advocates, policy makers, journalists, and other interested members of the public can gain access to and harness information about our environment through federal right-to-know laws, including the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The question is whether these statutes ensure that environmental information is made available to the public in a timely and dependable way.

In theory, the answer is yes. These statutes appear to provide a comprehensive right of access to information generated by the federal government or acquired by the federal government from private parties and state and local governments. In practice, however, this net of government-information statutes provides what is at best a piecemeal and not entirely satisfactory pathway to needed environmental information and is at worst the illusion of a right of access where none exists. There are many reasons why the reality does not match the expectations.

David C. Vladeck is a Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, Director of the Center on Health Regulation and Governance of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health, and Co-Director of the Institute for Public Representation. He is also a Scholar with the Center for Progressive Reform.

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