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Environmental Secrets

April 23, 1996
By: Emily Goodin
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - In an ironic twist, on Earth Day (April 22) the Senate Commerce committee heard testimony on a bill that would allow companies to keep confidential some self-audits on pollution.

Critics of the legislation claim companies would be able to hide information from citizens and prosecutors and it would take a court order to release the information.

"It cloaks environmental information in secrecy," said David Shorr, director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

But Rep. Phil Smith, the sponsor of the legislation, said the bill would encourage companies to do self-audits and then the audits couldn't be used against the companies.

"In order to do the audits, companies have to hire attorneys and use the attorney-client privilege," the Louisiana Democrat said. "This would let them order the audit and not be punished for having done that."

Natural Resources doesn't require voluntary self-audits nor the companies to release them to the department when they are done, Shorr said.

"We've never penalized a company for disclosing a self-audit," he said.

Another provision critics are protesting would allow companies immunity if they can show they've initialized a cleanup process.

"They should do more than initialize an action to solve a problem, they should have to complete the action," said Deirdre Hirner of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.

Smith says companies will have to complete the process.

"They're still not covered by immunities. It's done for fraud and immunities would not apply," Smith said.

The Senate Commerce Committee still needs to vote the legislation out of committee.

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