ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS & DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS
Disclosure requirements have been a tool of environmental regulation for some time, to varying degrees of success. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 was intended to keep dangerous chemicals off the market through a pre-manufacturing notice and rigorous screening by EPA. But the Act is widely viewed as falling well short of its goals and is now up for amendments in Congress. On the other hand, the Toxic Release Inventory initiated in 1986 is credited with spurring efforts to reduce waste and employ less toxic means of production. Today the hot button issue is disclosure of chemicals used in fracking and whether the voluntary program known as “FracFocus” is adequate.
This panel will explore the use of disclosure requirements as a form of environmental regulation: How effective is information disclosure as an environmental regulation tool? Does the public have a right to know what chemicals are used in fracking and other industrial processes? What are the limits to disclosure? How should trade secrets and confidential business information be handled? What are the pros and cons of mandatory vs. voluntary disclosure? What is the role of disclosure in dealing with the risks of climate change?
FINANCIAL DISCLOSURES AS REGULATION
For more than a century, disclosure has been a key tool used by federal and local governments to protect consumers and regulate business and financial enterprises. Louis D. Brandeis in Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It wrote, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” These words are often-repeated to endorse the power of mandated disclosures.
However, many, including Brandeis himself have recognized the limitations of disclosure. Some would argue that disclosure is necessary but insufficient. For example, disclosure would not cure problems associated with monopolization or products that harm the greater public, not just the consumer who reads the disclosure. Others would argue that excessive disclosure is counterproductive and has unintended consequences. For example, behavioral economists and other experts note that when overwhelmed with information, people can make worse choices and businesses feel more inclined to cause harm.
This panel of experts will explore the promises and limits of disclosure in the areas of crowd funding, environmental harm, conflict minerals, corporate political spending, and state regulation of financial services.
INFORMATION DISCLOSURE THROUGH FOOD & PRODUCT LABELING
You’ve seen it all before: Organic, All Natural, FSC Certified, Cruelty Free, GMO Free, Eco-Friendly. People are bombarded with labels on a daily basis. Ideally, labels exist to provide information to consumers so that they may make safe and informed purchasing choices. But should we err on the side of disclosure? Do we have the right to know as much as we would like about the products we consume? And may a state demand more information than our federal government is willing to?
The ongoing debate over the labeling of GMOs and the recent global “March Against Monsanto” seems to imply many would answer these questions in the affirmative. This panel aims to answer these questions and more by bringing together representatives involved with and affected by food and product labeling laws, regulations, and policy. What works? What doesn’t? And how can we balance the public’s desire to be well-informed with the need for a free and competitive marketplace?
A DEBATE ON CAMPAIGN FINANCE DISCLOSURE
The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United allowed private citizens, corporations and labor unions to make unlimited financial contributions to influence political campaigns. The question is no longer whether private contributions are allowed in elections, but whether the source of that funding should be disclosed to the public, and if the amount contributed should be a factor in that decision. This debate explores the tension between the public interest in knowing the source of spending in a political campaign and the First Amendment right to free, private speech via campaign contributions.