Thursday, October 16, 2008

Achieving Open Government in China’s Hunan Province

Sierra Club California got a rare opportunity to take part in a landmark international effort today.
Representatives of China’s
Hunan Province came to Sacramento with The Asia Foundation to learn about how California makes information available to the public. They wanted to know how California public interest groups – including Sierra Club California and the Public Policy Institute of California – interact with the government to obtain information, particularly environmental information.

Through a translator, Deputy Director Paul Mason talked about a case in the North Coast, where environmentalists had to sue the Bush Administration for access to data used in developing a logging plan. He also explained discrepancies within the various agencies, noting that the Resources Agency, for example, still does not webcast its meetings even though most other key state agencies do.

Outreach Coordinator Colleen Flannery talked about how groups like Sierra Club use a variety of existing government databases. The representatives appeared impressed by the variety of information made available by the state – ranging from the state water boards’ environmental enforcement reports to political contributions made by companies and individuals to webcasts of government meetings.

The Hunan Province is struggling to address a number of environmental threats, among them
environmental health impacts from illegal smelters in nearby Hubei Province, intense air pollution resulting in acid rain, and water contamination in the Xiangjiang River Basin. Getting out environmental information represents one of the province’s – and China’s – best potential weapons against pollution, Paul Mason said.

“Public access to information is one of the best ways to work toward a clean environment,” he told the representatives.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

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