The objective of this research is to evaluate: (1) the extent to which federal Toxics Release Inventory ("TRI") information is disseminated to the public and what, if any, behaviors that it motivates them to take; (2) the means by which the public is made aware of TRI information (e.g., by directly accessing TRI data via the Internet or other sources, or by being provided with information by the news media or interest groups); and (3) opportunities for improving the delivery and understanding of environmental disclosure data. TRI is considered an exemplar of U.S. information-based approaches to encouraging industry to engage in pollution prevention and has served as a model for other countries. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") estimates, over $500 million is currently spent annually in producing TRI data. Yet no extensive effort has been made to evaluate whether and how people actually use this information. This research will begin to answer these questions.
A three-wave telephone panel survey will be done in two different metropolitan areas to empirically assess the extent to which the public is aware of and reacts to TRI information. The first wave of interviews will be done prior to the public release of TRI data in 2001, the second after those data are released, and the third after we have mailed the survey respondents TRI information for facilities in their area. Through this before-and-after survey design, we will determine people's knowledge of and reactions to TRI information. Also, the surveys will gather other information about the respondents that could be related to their usage of TRI information, such as demographic characteristics, proximity to TRI facilities, familiarity with other environmental programs, and attitudes on environmental issues.
Also, we will conduct in-depth interviews of news media and environmental group members in the two survey locations to understand how they use and disseminate TRI information, and we will do content analyses of their communications to the public about TRI. This information can then be used to help explain the level of awareness and use of TRI information by the public in those areas. In addition, in each of the two survey locations we will conduct three focus group sessions composed of representatives of environmental groups' staff, TRI facility managers, and the general public, respectively, to explore in more depth their opinions about and use of TRI information. The in-depth interviews and focus group sessions will especially examine ways to improve the dissemination and clarity of TRI reporting formats.
The results of this research will provide policy-relevant information and guidance to environmental policy-makers at all levels of government and around the world. Gaining an understanding of the extent to which and how TRI information is disseminated and of its impacts will better enable policy-makers to evaluate the benefits and costs of not only TRI, but also other environmental information programs. In addition, this research will help identify strategies for more effectively using the news media and interest groups as conduits for the dissemination of environmental information. All of this will produce important indications of the cost-effectiveness of environmental information programs, so that they can be better compared against other environmental policy approaches.
Supplemental Key Words: public policy, cost-benefit, decision-making