Mapping

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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Help Us Map Environmental Justice Conflicts in the United States

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By Alejandro Colsa, Bernadette Grafton, Katy Hintzen, and Sara Orvis

As students at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment we consider ourselves lucky to be part of an institution that has played a major role in the historic evolution of the United States environmental justice movement. Coming from different backgrounds, the four of us have found environmental justice to be a unifying passion.

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Click to find out more about the EJOLT Project

When we first encountered the Environmental Justice Organizations, Liability and Trade (EJOLT) project we recognized its potential to further global collaboration among EJ activists and scholars. The EJOLT project allows us to explore a wide array of environmental justice issues, giving us a richer understanding of what environmental justice is and how it’s been manifested in the United States. At the same time, EJOLT provides us with the opportunity to be part of an exciting new movement towards increased international collaboration in environmental justice.

EJOLT is an international project that aims to map environmental justice conflicts around the world. EJOLT has reported on and analyzed environmental conflicts in more than 60 countries, including India, Ecuador, Mexico, and South Africa. Cases like the Map of Environmental Injustices in Turkey have made headlines in mainstream media. However, environmental justice cases in the U.S. have not yet been integrated into this international effort.

With the help of our two academic advisors, Professor Rebecca Hardin and Professor Paul Mohai, we reached out to the EJOLT project coordinator Professor Joan Martinez Alier and offered to spearhead an effort to identify and analyze 40 influential U.S. environmental justice case studies to contribute to EJOLT.

This is where we need your help! Choosing 40 case studies to represent the environmental justice movement and its historical development in the United States is a monumental task. We decided to create a public survey that engages the wider U.S. environmental justice community and harnesses the expertise of scholars, activists, and citizens like you to help determine which case studies are included in this database.

We need your help identifying which conflicts should be included in this project. If you would like to participate, please fill out our 5-to-10 minute survey. When answering the following questions, please keep in mind that we are not asking you to rank the case studies. All of the case studies have been divided into 10 categories defined by EJOLT.  Each category also provides an option to write-in any case studies that are not in this survey, but you feel should be included.

In order to make the survey shorter and more manageable, we have created two survey options. If you were born on a day ending with an even number please use this survey link, and if you were born on a day ending with an odd number please use this survey link. The survey will only be open through August 23rd, so make sure and take soon. Thanks for your collaboration!

About the authors:

Alejandro Colsa is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Environmental Justice. After spending some years learning how Environmental Justice is understood and studied in Europe, this Spanish graduate student has received a Fulbright scholarship to conduct research and study how the environmental justice movement was originated in the United States and how it can be framed within the broader and more international environmental justice movement, paying special attention to the role played by strong community activism.

Bernadette Grafton is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Behavior, Education, and Communication. She has a strong interest in brownfield redevelopment and community engagement that has led her to an understanding of the tight relationship between brownfields and environmental justice issues, primarily because of the location of many brownfield sites.   

Katy Hintzen is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Environmental Policy and Planning and Environmental Justice. Her interest in studying the intersections between public policy and community activism stem from her time as a Peace Corps volunteer working on environmental conservation issues in the Ecuadorian Amazon.        

Sara Orvis is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Environmental Justice. She is interested in the unique problems associated with rural environmental justice especially surrounding Indian Nations culture and traditions and the government to government relationships affect the mitigation of environmental justice sources. 

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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NEPAssist: One of EPA’s Newest Geospatial Tools

By Amber Tucker

Hi all, this is my first attempt at the blogging world, so please bear with me.  I initially started out intending to major in Journalism so maybe this won’t be as mighty of a feat as I’ve imagined it to be.  Even though I still do enjoy journaling in my personal time, my passion for career choice took a turn in my second semester of college.  It was in a requisite biology course that I took greater notice of and fell in love with wildlife, nature, and the great outdoors.  This led to a change in majors to Environmental Science which in turn, led me to the most amazing workplace I never dreamt I would get to be a part of; EPA.  Since day one, I’ve never stopped learning, and along the way, I’ve had the pleasure of being exposed to and able to utilize some of the most progressive scientific advances.

I think we can all agree that technology is pretty amazing these days; through the remarkable technology of public GIS platforms like Google Earth, you have the ability to essentially tour the world from the comfort of your own living room.  In the words of the late, great Dr. Seuss…”Oh the places you’ll go.”  Well, if you’re like me, with the world at your fingertips and the possibilities endless, the first place you decide to visit…an aerial view of your own home.  Exotic destination, no doubt.  However, there’s certainly some value in checking out your own neighborhood from a different point of view.  It’s good to know what all encompasses your surrounding areas.  You may discover things you never knew about the places you see every day.

EPA has rolled out some new technology that allows you to do just that; spatially discover the world around you, from an environmental perspective. Previously only accessible to EPA employees and contractors, NEPAssist is now available to everyone wanting to take a look at environmental factors and conditions in any given area throughout the country.  A web-based mapping tool, NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by allowing the user to raise and identify important environmental issues at the earliest stages of project development.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 requires all federal agencies to incorporate environmental considerations in their planning and decision-making through a systematic interdisciplinary process. NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by raising important environmental issues at the primary stages of project development. The mapping tool can be used by Federal agencies to identify alternative project locations, to avoid and minimize impacts, as well as identify potential mitigation areas. It’s a tool that can also help citizens to be aware of and involved in environmental decisions that affect their community.

NEPAssist draws information from publicly available federal, state, and local datasets, allowing NEPA practitioners, stakeholders and the public to view information about environmental conditions within the area of a proposed project quickly and easily at early stages of project development. There’s information on regulated facilities, demographics, water features, historic places, threatened & endangered species, wetlands, and so much more! You can trust me on this, or you can check it out for yourself (even though I assure you I’m trustworthy, I’d go with the latter).

The thought behind this is that NEPAssist could serve as an essential “one-stop shop” to garner environmental information for your desired vicinity.  NEPAssist also houses EJView data, formerly known as the Environmental Justice Geographic Assessment Tool, which is a mapping tool that allows users to create maps and generate detailed reports based on the geographic areas and data sets they choose.  Similar to the likes of Google Maps or Bing Maps, NEPAssist offers a variety of viewing options; Road, Aerial, and in some of the more urban areas, Birds Eye view.  I have to admit, the clarity and close-up image that Birds Eye view affords simultaneously amazes and freaks me out a little; I think I can see my dad’s pickup truck parked in my driveway!


A really cool feature of NEPAssist is the ability for you to define an area and then generate a detailed environmental report for that area. Using this tool, you can draw a point, line, area, or rectangle. You can also specify a buffer area radius for which the report will be generated. Draw your desired area, hit the NEPAssist Report button, and voila! You have yourself an environmental snapshot report. Information in the report will be displayed as a series of questions with yes or no answers based on the location of your project area. Click on a hyperlinked question to view the data source and associated metadata. All of this data, historical and current, available to you with just the push of a button.


This is the same primary and first-line tool we at EPA use to evaluate projects and generate comments. To access this tool and to learn more about NEPAssist and how it can aid you in your NEPA work, please visit the public NEPAssist website at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/nepa/nepassist-mapping.html.  Here you will also find a link to a NEPAssist Demonstration Webinar, as well as other NEPAssist user resources.  EPA is continually striving to enhance the NEPAssist tool to facilitate more efficient and effective federal environmental reviews and project planning.

Pretty neat, right?  I’m all about making well-informed decisions and I appreciate that NEPAssist allows me to become more aware of the environmental conditions and features in my backyard, my neighborhood, my community, my state, and my nation. Today, my cul-de-sac. Tomorrow, the world! Check out our NEPAssist page and create your own environmental knowledge quest.

Amber Tucker is an Environmental Scientist who serves as a NEPA reviewer for EPA Region 7.  She is a graduate of Haskell University and serves as Region 7’s Special Emphasis Program Manager for Native American Employment Programs.

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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EnviroFacts/Window to my Environment

About the author: Kim Blair is currently an intern with Environmental Education and Indoor Air Programs in Region 5. She has an extensive environmental education background and is enjoying utilizing her previous experience at the EPA. She has been working with the EE coordinator on facilitating grants and the Web Workgroup along with getting hands on experience working on a geographic initiative in Northeast Indiana with the Indoor Air Programs.

When I was in high school I spent a lot of time doing research for different projects from history to chemistry. There was always some project that I was struggling to finish or striving to think of a way to make my research stand out to the teacher. Well, the EPA has a great tool to impress your teachers and to get information you didn’t think was even out there. It’s called EnviroFacts. Besides the flashy name – it’s ok to admit that you think it is a pretty cool name too – there are so many interactive things that this program can do. Visit http://www.epa.gov/enviro/ to get started exploring this newly updated program.

So what exactly is EnviroFacts? It’s a program that maps your area of choice with specific details about water quality, hazardous waste, air and land toxics, compliance issues and more. The tool is based on GIS (Geographic Information Systems) where data that is collected is input into a visual format like a map. You can customize what type of information you would like to display on your map or even map by topic instead of location to learn more about that issue. You can also share this site with your friends over Facebook, Stumbleupon and other social networks.

Here’s a sample of a map I looked up by zip code to get even more specific data displayed using the Enviromapper and Window to My Environment. I mapped the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago to see what kinds of environmental impacts are important to the area. You can modify your map according to your area of interest and find out a lot about that area besides just the hazardous waste sites. You can also obtain facility information for potential or current pollution issues.

Sample map and legend from GIS

The possibilities are endless as you explore your world on a different level. This resource can be used for school or for your own personal interests. Maybe it could lead to community service projects based on the pollution issues in your area or a great visual for a class project. You can also take a look at the Community Service Projects page on EPA’s High School Website or just see the resources out there for you to use.

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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Sweet Home Virtual Alabama!

About the author: Molly O’Neill is EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information and Chief Information Officer

Recently, I attended a government leadership summit that focused on collaboration. It was represented by state, local and federal leaders. I was there not just to speak but also to learn. I am always looking for ideas outside of EPA that we might take advantage of in our business. Sometimes, you see something special and it opens your eyes to future benefits.

aerial photo of red and yellow Virtual Alabama Plume At an evening session, I saw a demonstration of something called “Virtual Alabama”. I had been hearing the buzz around this for several weeks and it didn’t disappoint. Now, from a technology perspective this wasn’t a big deal to me. It is simply a well orchestrated Google Earth implementation from a statewide perspective. The impressive part was the incredible collaboration that occurred to bring almost all the government related information together visually. And it was at the state and local levels! In one application, the user could view environmental information, crime information, land use information, etc. all at once.

Alabama has effectively engaged a small team of people whose job it is to harvest this data and make it available to decision-makers. They are constantly consuming more data and adding new functionality. For example, universities and colleges are now sketching on the maps to show what the insides of their buildings look like. Another cool example involves historical aerial photography. After a recent tornado, officials could look at pictures of towns before and after the tornado to respond to emergencies and also to help insurance companies estimate damage. I also saw how they incorporated a tool EPA uses called “Aloha” into their application to look at toxicity dispersion modeling with just a few lines of code!

At EPA, I talk about how owning data is passé, but using it is not. There are data sources outside of EPA that are very important to our Mission and we need to access them. That’s why building partnerships to share information is so important. If one agency collects the data, technology today allows it to be shared pretty easily. Federal government needs to shift the paradigm from data owners to data collaborators and to embrace technology as the enabler.

Virtual Alabama started as a Homeland Security project that has been adopted by the entire state. I believe its success lies on the fact that there is an organization in place well adapted to constantly harvest data – a data fusion center. This is my take away from another insightful leadership summit in seeing Virtual Alabama as a best practice… something we at EPA can certainly learn from.

Since March, EPA has been reaching out to the public and specific stakeholder groups during our National Dialogue on Access to Environmental Information, and the comment session is now over. I would like to thank those who contributed their ideas during this time. I learned about great examples of information sharing, including Virtual Alabama. Check out the National Dialogue website for summaries of the stakeholder sessions and more on the upcoming strategy document that compiles what we’ve learned.

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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