Enforcement

New Tools in Environmental Data Analysis

By Jessie Johnson

There is a plethora of sources for environmental data, but it can often lead to a plethora of questions. How do you know where to go for the data? How can you visualize and interpret the data? The website I work on, Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO), has been a resource to help answer these questions since it was launched in 2002. ECHO provides users the ability to search facilities that are in non-compliance with environmental laws and helps make EPA enforcement efforts and regulated entities’ actions more transparent for the public. Comments from ECHO users allow us to continue to improve your access to environmental data.

Our newest update is the new Facility Search Results page called “map filter” that will be launched this fall after testing and review is completed. The EPA ECHO team has worked to create a more user friendly and seamless search that models the new page off of commonly-used search engines. We will be offering easy-to-use filters, access to on-page media-specific search criteria, and customized mapping layer.

So what does all of that mean? With the new results page you will be able to complete a search while looking directly at the map meaning you can see that changes happening in your search occur as you make them, allowing you to adjust your search along the way. The layers include tribal boundaries, hospitals, schools, and other demographic maps to help finish out the story of your map during your search. Our hope is that these changes will lead to a better understanding of enforcement data and more analysis of existing data.

As a geographic information system analyst, I am excited about this tool because I rely heavily on maps and visual aids, and I have found it very helpful to see my search occur on the screen in front of me. I think environmental analysis and decisions are based on many levels of information and not solely based on one facility or one set of data.  These new additions will hopefully help the information stand out more, make it easier to understand and help deliver a more efficient product to our users.

Look out for trainings—you can subscribe to our listserv for updates—that will be coming along with the new search tool in late fall to help everyone make this transition seamless and hopefully help generate as much excitement as we have here for the new ECHO map filtering tool.

Figure 2. Preview of a search result and facility summary on the new ECHO Map Filter search page

About the author: Jessie Johnson is the training and outreach coordinator for the Integrated Targeting and Access Branch in Office of Compliance. She also specializes in GIS technology and is working on mapping and analytical access for the public.

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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Increasing Transparency through Improved Data Access

By Jessie Johnson

In college I worked with community groups to address local agriculture and food safety issues. During that time, I learned how many people in the community didn’t really understand these issues or what to do about them. I started to think about transparency and the importance of community involvement and education. I am thrilled to now be a part of the team working on the Enforcement and Compliance History Online tool, known as ECHO. This tool allows users to search facilities that are in non-compliance with environmental laws and helps make EPA enforcement efforts and companies’ actions more transparent for the general public.

Each year the ECHO team hears from users around the country about enhancements they would like to see. We have been working hard to create, promote, and improve the highlighted tools in the ECHO system and build new, useful tools. Some of our notable improvements include:

 2015 Highlights

  • Users now have a “Use My Location” feature on their mobile devices to find facilities within a three-mile radius.
  • When users search by case name, defendant name or facility name on the enforcement case search, they can choose to search for exact matches or names that begin with a search term.
  • An ECHO tool guide provides users with tips about tools for various analyses.
  • Pesticide Worker Protection dashboard provides a summary of enforcement and compliance aimed to reduce risk of pesticide poisoning and injury.
  • Online tutorials are available for clean water effluent charts, detailed facility reports, and the error reporting feature.

2016 Plans

I am also excited to share what’s in store for 2016. We will be focusing on improving ECHO tools and increasing public involvement. When I joined EPA, I came with a personal goal to help others get involved with knowing their environmental community and reporting on noncompliance of environmental laws. I am personally looking forward to seeing more public users and feedback so we can improve our enforcement efforts. But as a team, we have a lot of exciting projects for 2016 to help make ECHO more useful and informative for everyone.

  • Users will be able to search for criminal enforcement cases as well as the current opportunity to search civil enforcement cases.
  • Enhanced search results and mapping capabilities.
  • Water quality mapping.
  • Frequent tutorials and trainings for both public and government users.

After a great 2015 of modernizing ECHO I am looking forward to 2016!

Jessie Johnson is new to EPA as a program analyst with the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. She specializes in GIS technology and will be working to help improve the enforcement maps and training others in map analysis and has a particular interest in how GIS mapping can help improve enforcement and management efforts.

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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Protecting Communities through Superfund Enforcement

By Cyndy Mackey

December 2015 marked the 35th Anniversary of the Superfund program, the federal government’s most successful program designed to clean up the nation’s contaminated land and water and respond to environmental emergencies. I oversee EPA’s Superfund enforcement program, which focuses on cleaning up neighborhoods, ensuring that the polluter pays, and protecting human health and the environment.

The past 35 years have brought significant changes to Superfund through congressional amendments, changes to perspective through reauthorization discussions, and interpretations from the judicial system. Not only has the law changed, but technology has, too.

I am proud to have dedicated my career to cleaning up contaminated sites, and my goal in my current role is to support EPA’s work to find responsible parties and make sure that polluters pay for the cost of cleanups instead the American taxpayers.

For every dollar spent by the Superfund enforcement program, private parties commit to spending eight dollars toward cleanup work leading to restoration of land and water, facilitating reuse and revitalization, and protecting communities. Since the program inception, EPA has secured over $35.1 billion in private party commitments and over $6.9 billion to recover past cleanup costs. EPA has been instrumental in helping to get the responsible parties to pay for cleanup of sites across the country. For example:

  • A 2006 enforcement agreement with General Electric resulted in a $2.7 billion cleanup of contaminated sediment and 300,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) being removed from the Hudson River riverbed. The dredging of the Hudson River PCB Superfund Site was completed in October 2015.
  • A 2014 settlement to resolve fraudulent conveyance charges against Anadarko and Kerr-McGee associated with the Tronox bankruptcy means $1.9 billion will go toward cleanup of contaminated Superfund sites across the country.
  • A 2009 agreement required $975 million for the cleanup of contamination at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. This agreement facilitates the cleanup of 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash waste impacting the Emory River and adjacent land.
  • In 2007, EPA collected more than $124 million from Hercules Incorporated to recover costs for the Agency’s cleanup work at the Vertac Chemical and Jackson Landfill Superfund Sites in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

EPA’s Superfund enforcement program is strong and is committed to finding new solutions as we address new sites, industrial processes, and hazardous substances to ensure human health and the environment are protected in communities across the country.

More information about Superfund’s accomplishments over the past 35 years.

About the author: Cyndy Mackey oversee EPA’s Superfund enforcement program, which focuses on cleaning up neighborhoods, ensuring that the polluter pays, and protecting human health and the environment.

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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New Tools and Approaches Are Reshaping Environmental Compliance

I recently joined EPA staff and leaders from across academia, industry and non-profit sectors for a conference dedicated to the latest Next Generation Compliance strategies and solutions, hosted by George Washington University Law School. With topics ranging from how to use new technologies to improve compliance, to citizen monitoring and state-federal collaboration (just to name a few), one thing was clear – there is strong momentum and lots of progress in Next Gen today that’s shaping the future of environmental enforcement and compliance.

The conference inspired me to take a moment to reflect on all of this progress. Here are a few examples of what we’ve already accomplished:

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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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E-Manifest: Partnering to Build a 21st Century Solution for Hazardous Waste Tracking

Last year, I announced that we were embarking on the development of e-Manifest, to upgrade the current paper-based system of tracking hazardous waste to an electronic one, streamlining and greatly reducing the millions of paper manifests produced each year. E-Manifest will save industry an estimated $75 million per year, improve inspection and enforcement by EPA and the states, and improve public safety by providing timely and better quality information on hazardous waste transport to emergency responders.

Hazardous waste generated in the United States must be tracked from “cradle to grave” to ensure it is handled, shipped, and disposed of in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

We’ve made significant progress over the last year working with the states, industry, and other stakeholders on the development of e-Manifest.

We held a series of extensive technical meetings to discuss key issues, including:

  • Current industry and state operations and information technology (IT) systems that support manifests.
  • Industry and state expectations and requirements for interacting with e-Manifest.
  • State and industry data access needs and reports available from the e-Manifest system.

This work is essential to designing, building and ultimately deploying the national system, and the agency will soon procure appropriate vendors to achieve these goals. We will be in close contact with users and other stakeholders to pilot and test the system every step of the way as we proceed.

On February 18, 2015 we asked for nominations from individuals interested in service on this e-Manifest Board, ensuring there is representation from states, industry, and IT professionals. View the Federal Register Notice for more information.

Another important step needed before the e-Manifest program can be fully implemented is to establish the initial fee structure for users of the system. We are working closely with states and industry stakeholders, and anticipate the proposed rule establishing the fee model for the system will be ready for public comment by May of 2016.

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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Largest Superfund Settlement in History Means Cleanups from New Jersey to California

If you pollute the environment, you should be responsible for cleaning it up. This basic principle guides EPA’s Superfund cleanup enforcement program.

We just settled our largest environmental contamination case ever, for nearly $4.4 billion that will help to clean up the communities that were affected.

Here’s some background: Last April, along with the Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, EPA announced a historic cleanup settlement with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. Many years ago, one of Anadarko’s subsidiaries, Kerr-McGee, conducted uranium mining and other activities that involved highly toxic chemicals at sites across the nation. These operations left contamination behind, including radioactive uranium waste across the Navajo Nation; radioactive thorium in Chicago and West Chicago, Illinois; creosote (or tar) waste in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the South; and perchlorate contamination in Nevada. All of these substances can be dangerous to people’s health.

Anadarko tried to skirt its responsibility by transferring the business assets responsible for this contamination into a now-defunct and bankrupt company called Tronox. EPA and DOJ vigorously pursued them – and the result was this new settlement. The nearly $4.4 billion that the company will pay will help to clean up toxic pollution and to turn the contaminated areas back into usable land.

This settlement took effect last week. Here are some ways that its impact will be felt:

  • In Manville, N.J., a coal tar wood treatment facility buried creosote in recreational areas. Funds will be used EPA and the state will get funds to clean up the waste left behind.
  • Not far away in Camden and Gloucester City, N.J., there’s a residential area where two former gas mantle manufacturing sites used to be. They’ve received cleanup assistance already, and this settlement means that more is on the way.
  • Funds are starting to flow to Navajo Nation territory to help clean up drinking water contaminated by radioactive waste from abandoned uranium mines.
  • Low income, minority communities in Jacksonville, Florida; West Chicago, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; and Navassa, North Carolina are benefiting from the settlement funds to clean up contamination from uranium and thorium, volatile organic compounds, pesticides and PCBs.

Companies that operate in American communities have an obligation to protect nearby residents from harm. That’s why we do enforcement — to protect communities and their health. We make sure that responsible parties are held accountable and pay to clean up the pollution they caused.

Learn more about our enforcement cleanup efforts at Superfund sites across the country, some of which include an enforcement component, in the December 2014 National Geographic Magazine.

Picture resources:
Federal Creosote site pictures: http://epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/federalcreosote/images.html
Welsbach & Gas Mantle site pictures: http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/welsbach/images.html
Map of Navajo Nation Abandoned Uranium Mines Superfund Cleanup Sites (larger poster PDF): http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/pdf/CleanupSitesPoster.pdf
smaller image found at http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/abandoned-uranium.html

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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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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From Cutting Edge to Commonplace

By Cynthia Giles

I’ve dedicated my career to working with state, local and tribal partners to enforce environmental laws to protect American communities from pollution. Looking back, we’ve come a long way in how we measure for pollution and take action to curb it. Years ago, accounting for air pollution from refineries, for instance, was unreliable and burdensome. It relied in large part on estimates, often done by the refineries themselves, which often undercounted actual emissions and the risks posed to neighbors. In those days, fully understanding refinery emissions would have required taking air samples one-by-one across many potential sources.

Over the past decade, new technologies and innovative solutions have significantly improved our enforcement and compliance efforts. Through EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy, we’re building these tools into settlements with companies, pushing their development and implementation in communities across America.

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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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EPA: Making a Visible Difference in Communities Across the Country

Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, once said “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

Making a visible difference in communities is at the heart of EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. It is what drives our workforce to go above and beyond to find that “difference” that improves the lives of individuals, families, and communities across the country. Last month, I invited EPA employees to share stories of the creative and innovative approaches that they have used to educate, engage and empower American families and communities in environmental protection. I’d like to share some of their stories with you with the hope that you too will be inspired to make a difference in your community. More

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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Tackling the Cases That Matter Most

By Cynthia Giles

This week, EPA released its final strategic plan outlining the agency’s priorities for the next four years, including enforcement and compliance assurance. When the draft plan was released back in November, we received thousands of public comments that stressed the importance of a robust enforcement program that holds polluters accountable and deters violations of environmental laws. I couldn’t agree more.

Now that we have a clearer understanding of EPA’s budget, we have made some adjustments to the numbers outlined in the plan. While they are projections – and actual results are often higher than projected – greater budget certainty has allowed us to increase some of the targets. The final strategic plan reflects EPA’s commitment to vigorous enforcement for the cases that have the highest impact on protecting public health and the environment. More

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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