ECHO

Modernizing Access to Environmental Data

Do you use our Enforcement and Compliance History Online database?

If you do, then you may already know about our yearlong modernization effort to make it one of the most robust government data tools in the world. If you don’t, then now is a good time to try it out. Recognized by President Obama as an exemplary federal agency data tool, ECHO houses environmental compliance information on more than 800,000 facilities nationwide. More than 2 million visitors checked it out last year.

Today I’m excited to report that we’ve just added air pollution data from our various reporting programs, known as the Air Pollutant Report. When you run a facility search, ECHO now lets you view and compare air data from our National Emissions Inventory, Toxic Release Inventory, Greenhouse Gas Reporting Tool and Acid Rain Program—along with facility compliance information—on a single, easy-to-use web page. Previously, in order to see the air pollution emissions for a given facility, you would have to search for it on four different websites and combine the data yourself. Now all of that information is presented on a single facility specific report.

NewScreenShotThis upgrade is a big boost for public transparency giving citizens, industry and government agencies an easy way to spot problems so they can play an active role in environmental protection. The Air Pollutant Report is currently in “beta” phase, and so we need your feedback on the design and contents of the tool. Adding air pollution data to ECHO is just one of many important upgrades we’ve made this year. Here are some of the others:

  • Last month, we launched a new dashboard that allows users to search for information on facility compliance with pesticide regulations.
  • In April, we launched a Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) dashboard, a user-friendly tool that presents data about violations and the compliance status of public water systems. Popular Clean Water Act data sets were reposted to ECHO last summer, making it easier to find data about water violations and inspections.
  • A new mapping feature displaying the compliance status of EPA-regulated facilities lets users create customized maps using current data.
  • ECHO now allows users to search which facilities have reported Risk Management Plans required under the Clean Air Act.
  • In the spirit of the White House’s Digital Government Strategy, ECHO’s new technology also provides web services, widgets and other features allowing web developers to incorporate data and reports into their own websites.

In addition to all of these improvements, data in ECHO is now refreshed on a weekly basis, giving you more up to date information, often only a matter of days after we receive it from the states.

We’ve made remarkable strides in our effort to make environmental data accessible and easy to use. With greater access to information, you can be better informed about what’s happening in your community, which supports engagement and participation at every level of government.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Introducing Our New Compliance Website

By Marion Herz

As chief of staff for EPA’s Office of Compliance, job #1 for me is protecting people’s health and their communities. Our office makes sure everyone plays by the same rules when it comes to the environment.

We recently launched our new compliance website to make it easier to stay informed about our work and to share tools that can help companies and others follow the law. The goal of our site is to help everyone understand what we do, why we do it, and how.

Here are a few of the features you should know about:

  • At the heart of our compliance program are inspections of facilities. The new site explains how they are conducted. Sometimes these inspections identify cases where we can better protect people from harmful pollution. For example, our inspections recently found that contractors with Lowe’s Home Centers were not using lead-safe work practices. A settlement in that case requires them to follow laws designed to protect children and families from dangerous lead exposure.
  • We all want to know what’s happening in the community and around the country. The new site provides easy access to ECHO, an online tool my colleague Rebecca Kane wrote about recently. ECHO lets you analyze compliance and enforcement data through dashboards, maps and charts. It also gives you access to other EPA tools designed to identify pollution sources, including greenhouse gases, wastewater discharges and toxic chemicals.
  • For those who work in a regulated facility, the new site helps you comply with the law. We work with industries to create Compliance Assistance Centers. The Centers offer easy access to plain-language materials, from virtual plant tours to industry-specific information to fact sheets, guides, access to expert help and more. The site also provides resources for workers to help them follow laws and protect themselves and their communities.
  • The site provides information about our Next Generation Compliance program. Next Gen is helping us and our partners take advantage of innovative approaches and advanced technologies to improve the effectiveness of our compliance program. It’s designed to benefit everyone, from companies to local residents, by reducing costs, saving time and improving the accuracy of monitoring and reporting.

I hope you find the new Compliance site informative, easy to use and helpful. We’ll keep it up to date with new information and tools, so check back often!

About the author: Marion Herz is the chief of staff for EPA’s Office of Compliance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Improving Access to Environmental Data through ECHO

By Rebecca Kane

I work at the Environmental Protection Agency because I care about protecting communities from pollution. I believe that information is critical to taking action, be it working with stakeholders to affect local policies or empowering citizens with tools to reduce their environmental footprint.

I manage EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online website, known as ECHO, which provides information about environmental inspections, violations and enforcement actions for EPA-regulated facilities, like power plants and factories. As one of our most important and popular resources, ECHO houses information about more than 800,000 facilities nationwide, and last year, it was visited more than 2 million times. I consider it an important tool to staying informed about my community in suburban Washington, DC.

Recent updates to ECHO allow me, and all who want to stay informed about environmental issues in their community, to find information more efficiently and accurately. Here are some examples of how these upgrades help me use the data:

  • We’ve brought back the popular Clean Water Act features, and now it’s easier to find data about water violations and inspections.
  • I can search for Clean Water Act dischargers based on type of pollutants discharged. For example, I can quickly find facilities in the area that discharge metals and check to see whether they are meeting their permitted discharge limits. This matters if my family wants to fish or swim in nearby streams and rivers.
  • When I download data to analyze violations at facilities near my neighborhood, I can see information that’s been updated within the week.
  • I can now encourage web developers to build EPA’s enforcement data directly into their own web pages and apps, because ECHO reports are now built on web services.

I’m proud to be a part of ECHO’s continued development, and there’s more to come as we continue to advance our commitment to inform and empower the public. We’re always working on enhancements to ECHO, and welcome your feedback about the site.

About the author: Rebecca Kane is a program analyst who has worked at EPA for 13 years. She’s spent most of her time in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and is leading the ECHO modernization effort.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA’s Enforcement Database Gets an Overhaul

By Rebecca Kane

When the West, Texas fertilizer plant exploded in April, my heart sank. The disaster triggered sadness for those who lost loved ones. Even after the fire was out, though, there were effects on people in the area and on the environment.

As is common with domestic environmental disasters, the West, Texas explosion resulted in a flood of calls from reporters, researchers and concerned citizens to EPA about the Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) website, which I’ve helped manage for 12 years. ECHO has become a go-to resource for information about environmental inspections, violations and enforcement actions for more than 800,000 regulated facilities.

And today it’s getting an overhaul.

Until today, ECHO was supported by a 23-year-old system and a web page design that had become outdated. Over time, as we added more features to the site, some users found it to be confusing and had trouble tracking down information. When there was a rush to the site like the one in April, these challenges were exacerbated, leading our team to spend hours helping people navigate the system and troubleshooting.

Today’s launch of the beta version of the new ECHO website is a game changer. The new ECHO site is more efficient, flexible and easier to use, with compelling graphics and functionality. If you’re interested in the environmental compliance history of a nearby facility or industry sector, or just want to be more informed about enforcement activity in your area, check out the new ECHO. We’ve kept the good stuff like the rich data, the robust search options, mapping and easy data downloads. And now the site is better organized, and we’ve added features like collapsible and expandable sections of data, making it easier to find information.

It’ll remain in beta form for a few weeks, and we need people like you to visit and take the new ECHO for a spin while we complete testing and add finishing touches. In addition to an improved user experience, the new ECHO also opens up greater possibilities for future enhancements like public web services that allow anyone to develop tools using the data. Your participation and input will help us continue fine tuning and rebuilding key features throughout the next year.

The work we’ve done to modernize ECHO supports EPA’s commitment to increasing transparency and empowering informed, involved citizens. Take a look and let us know what you think.

About the author:  Rebecca Kane is a Program Analyst that has worked at EPA for almost 13 years. She’s spent most of her time in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance working on the ECHO website and other transparency projects.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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