As a member of the public, you have a right to review government documents and attend public meetings under both state and federal law. At the state level, the law is referred to as the Sunshine Law (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.010 of the Missouri Revised Statutes). At the federal level, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) governs access to public documents and the “Government in the Sunshine” Act governs access to public meetings. As an environmental advocate, reviewing public records and attending public meetings can help you ensure that government agencies follow the law when making decisions that impact the environment.
Most reports, documents, correspondence, and permits filed with the government become public records and are available for review at agency offices. Environmental laws and regulations require that agencies and permit holders gather, produce, record, and report much of this information. For example, when companies violate their permits or accidentally release toxic chemicals, the law usually requires those companies to file prompt reports. Additionally, the law often requires permit holders to monitor and file reports about their discharges to show whether or not they are complying with permit limits.Companies submit these reports to agencies such as the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Types of records you may request include:
- Research data used in decision-making or rule-making
- Inspections and inspection reports
- Internal reporting (e.g. daily records of water levels, manure application)
- Notices of violations (NOV)
- Letters of warning (LOW)
- Industry reports (for example, reports of monitoring results or pollution incidents)
- Permits and permit applications
- Environmental Assessments (EA) and Environmental Screening Worksheets (ESW)
- Meeting minutes
- Some forms of correspondence between agencies and permitted entities (mail, electronic, etc.)
Generally, if you visit a government agency office, you can ask the person on duty for the record(s). Depending on the agency, however, you may need to provide a written request to review public records. You may also choose to request records in hard copy or electronically instead of physically visiting the agency office. This section details why and how to request public records.