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The Planet

State of the States

The Planet, January 1997, Volume 4, number 1


  • Secrecy Bills Derailed in States
  • States That Stopped Pollution Secrecy
  • Federal audit privilege/immunity legislation
  • Industries Supporting Pollution Secrecy

Secrecy Bills Derailed in States

by Mark Woodall, Chair, Audit Privilege Task Force

So-called audit privilege legislation would provide blanket immunity for environmental crimes, no matter how serious, and would establish unprecedented legal privilege allowing corporate polluters to hide civil and criminal misconduct from judges, juries and the public. In the view of the pro-secrecy, pro-immunity National Association of Manufacturers, "It was the hottest environmental issue in the states this session."

Powerful corporate polluter coalitions overpowered the public interest to pass audit privilege (or "dirty secrets") bills in five states during the 1996 state legislative sessions: Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina and South Dakota. But thanks to the hard work of Sierra Club volunteers and the state lobby corps, such legislation was defeated in over 20 states.

Vice President Gore recently wrote members of Congress to affirm the Clinton administration's opposition to the dirty-secrets bills in Congress and to similar bills at the state level. In testimony before the Senate, Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator Steve Herman said that "the enforcement of federal law whether carried out by states or the EPA ought to be subject to some minimal national standards. Otherwise, it is no longer federal law. If it is cheaper to violate the law in some states, then companies that operate legally in neighboring jurisdictions will be put at a disadvantage." In order to maintain the integrity of federal environmental laws, the EPA has warned Texas, Idaho, Michigan and Utah that their delegation of the federal Clean Air Act that is, their authority to implement and enforce the law at the state level is at risk due to state privilege/immunity statutes.

Environmentalists have petitioned the EPA to withdraw delegated programs in Idaho, Michigan and Texas. In Texas, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International has joined the Environmental Defense Fund petition due to the threat to employee health and safety posed by the Texas secrecy statute. The Texas law makes health and safety audits secret in addition to environmental audits.

Ohio state Sen. (and newly elected Congressman) Dennis Kucinich announced from the Ohio Senate floor that he will ask the EPA and federal Department of Justice to intervene in the implementation of the new Ohio secrecy law. Kucinich also vowed to ask the EPA to block Ohio's delegation of environmental program authority.

After stopping the momentum of the dirty secrets legislation around the country in 1996, Club activists and lobbyists will face a renewed push in 1997 from corporate polluter secrecy advocates. The EPA's actions to ensure that state statutes do not conflict with federal environmental laws could provide opportunities to repeal or amend state dirty secrets statutes.

For more information: Contact your chapter's state lobbyist or Paula Carrell, the Club's state program director, at (415) 977-5668; e-mail: <>

States That Stopped Pollution Secrecy

The following states have considered, but chosen not to enact, environmental audit privilege/ immunity bills during the 1995 or 1996 legislative session:

Alabama         Nebraska 
Alaska          Nevada
Arizona         New Mexico
California      New York
Delaware        North Carolina
Florida         Oklahoma
Georgia         Rhode Island
Hawaii          Pennsylvania
Iowa            Tennessee
Louisiana       Vermont
Maryland        Washington
Massachusetts   Wisconsin
Missouri        West Virginia
Federal audit privilege/immunity legislation -- H.R. 1047 by Rep. Hefley (R-Colo.) and S. 582 by Sens. Hatfield (R-Ore.) and Brown (R-Colo.) -- was also considered and defeated during 1996.

Industries Supporting Pollution Secrecy

A partial list of the major industry players supporting pollution secrecy legislation across the country includes:

The Corporate Environmental Enforcement Council (AT&T, Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical, BF Goodrich, Kohler, Caterpillar, 3M, Coors Brewing, Owens- Corning, Du Pont, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Polaroid, Elf Atochem, N.A., Procter & Gamble, Hoechst-Celanese, Textron, ITT, Weyerhaeuser), The Compliance Management and Policy Group (American Forest and Paper Association, American Petroleum Institute, Chemical Manufacturers Association, National Solid Waste Management Association, AT&T, Boeing, Browning Ferris, General Electric, Monsanto, Waste Management)

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