transparency

Ensuring the Implementation of Protective Practices is Key to Responsible Energy Development

by Teresa Marks

As the former Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality director for almost eight years, I know firsthand how important it is for states to work closely with EPA when it comes to protecting human health and the environment. That’s why when I was asked to be the EPA Administrator’s new principal advisor for Unconventional Oil and Gas (UOG), I was excited to get another firsthand perspective on how hard EPA works to coordinate with states. Today, we released the draft assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources, and I wanted to take some time to tell you about what we are doing to support states.

States play the primary role in the day-to-day activities relating to the regulation of unconventional oil and natural gas development. EPA, like states, has a vested interest in responsible oil and natural gas development so as to ensure adequate safeguards for air, land, and water. With that goal in mind, we recently worked with states on this through our support of the National Governors Association’s state learning network on responsible shale energy development—a program where states share protective practices to protect public health as shale energy resources are being developed.

We feel it is important for industry, states, tribes, academia, and EPA—working in collaboration—to explore the implementation of protective practices in the field—and particularly how we can transparently demonstrate that they have been properly and fully applied. For example, technology has both advanced and become less expensive meaning real-time monitoring of storage vessels at a well site may be done remotely and in real time. No longer is an annual physical audit the only way to determine if a protective practice is in place.

In addition, transparency of information is a minimum expectation by communities of both the industry and the government when it comes to responsible unconventional oil and natural gas activities. Technology and transparency are powerful tools that can optimize efficiency, reduce risk, save capital, and help prioritize resources for industry and states. Technology and transparency are two examples of how to ensure implementation of protective practices. Working together with states and other stakeholders on these efforts to ensure the implementation of protective practices is vital to minimizing potential risks and increasing public confidence in responsible energy development.

EPA will continue to support states’ efforts by sharing our expertise and experience, and by serving as a convener—to bring states, tribes and industry and others together to raise the bar on performance. In the future we will be meeting with stakeholders to explore and encourage the implementation of protective practices being implemented in the field. Working together to support transparent implementation of best practices that keep pace with innovative technology, can both minimize potential risks and increase public confidence that unconventional oil and gas production and development is happening safely and responsibly.

About the author: Teresa Marks is principal advisor for Unconventional Oil and Gas.

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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A Message to IRIS Program Stakeholders: We Want to Hear From You!

By Kacee Deener

IRIS graphic identifierIn July 2013, EPA announced enhancements to our Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program to improve the scientific foundation of assessments, increase transparency, and improve productivity. Stakeholder engagement is an essential part of the enhancements, and since announcing them, we have held bimonthly public meetings to discuss scientific issues related to preliminary assessment materials and draft IRIS assessments. We announce these meetings well in advance on the IRIS website, and we publicly release any relevant materials about two months before the meeting is held. We also identify specific scientific issues related to the chemicals we are assessing.

Did you know that anyone can participate in these meetings? You can register to participate as a discussant on a specific scientific issue identified by EPA, or you can identify one of your own. Likewise, you can participate in the meetings more generally (i.e., not sign up for a specific scientific topic, but participate during discussion and open forum sessions). We don’t put together an invited panel for these meetings, and the agenda reflects those individuals who requested to participate in the scientific discussions.

IRIS meeting in a large conference room

EPA holds a public IRIS meeting.

We realize that you can never do too much where communication is concerned, so we use a variety of ways to publicize the meetings. They are announced on the IRIS website and through the IRIS Listserv and Human Health Risk Assessment research program bulletins, which reach more than 7,000 people combined. If you’re not on these lists, please sign up! We also use various social media platforms, including Twitter (follow IRIS and other EPA research on Twitter @EPAresearch).

We know that getting different perspectives on scientific issues is important, and we are exploring additional ways to reach out to scientists and other individuals who might be interested in participating in our meetings and contributing to the IRIS process.

We recognize that not all of our stakeholders have the resources to travel to a meeting. Because of that, for the past year and a half, every IRIS public meeting has also been available by webinar. We’ve also made some recent changes so that webinar participants can more fully engage in our meetings, including using telephone connections that allow webinar participants to actively participate in discussions.

EPA’s IRIS Program works on behalf of the American people, and anyone is welcome to add their voice to the conversation. We welcome your ideas about how to expand public access to and engagement in IRIS activities. We also welcome your input about how to obtain additional perspectives on the complex scientific issues that are discussed at IRIS bimonthly public science meetings. Join the conversation today by commenting on this blog post or sending us your ideas through the IRIS general comments docket.

As always, we want to hear from you!

About the Author: Kacee Deener is the Communications Director in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.  She joined EPA 13 years ago and has a Masters degree in Public Health.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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100 Days of EPA Science, and Beyond

By Kacee Deener

Numeral 100 with clouds and sky in backgroundEPA recently highlighted some of the Agency’s achievements during Gina McCarthy’s first 100 days as Administrator, noting that we have made significant strides towards improving the health of American families and protecting the environment across the country.

One of the seven highlighted examples is “Taking Action on Toxics and Chemical Safety” – which includes strengthening chemical assessments through changes to the Agency’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program.  In a recent blog post, I described these changes and why they make sense for the IRIS Program, the Agency, and the American people.  But the IRIS Program hasn’t stopped there.  We’ve been moving forward implementing the changes.  Since August, we have:

  1. Released early materials for several chemical assessments.  These materials highlight our thought process for determining which studies are most important for the assessment, help make sure we didn’t miss any important research, and help identify potential scientific controversies early on.
  2. Scheduled the first IRIS public bimonthly meeting (Dec. 12-13).  At this meeting we will discuss the early materials for three chemicals (ETBE, tert-butanol, and RDX) and the draft assessments and peer review charges for two chemical assessments (ethylene oxide and benzo[a]pyrene).
  3. Held a public scientific workshop to discuss the IRIS assessment of hexavalent chromium.  An important component of determining the cancer causing potential of ingested hexavalent chromium is understanding the rates at which this metal is effectively detoxified in the gastrointestinal tract.  EPA convened an expert panel to discuss this issue in September; more than 200 stakeholders participated!
  4. Scheduled a scientific workshop on mouse lung tumors.  At this workshop, which will be held in early 2014, experts will discuss the available data from studies of mouse lung tumors following exposure to chemicals and discuss the relevance of these tumors in mice to assessing human cancer risk.
  5. Released final IRIS assessments for biphenyl, 1,4-dioxane (inhalation update), and methanol (noncancer). These final assessments provide information on the health effects of these chemicals and toxicity values that risk assessors can use (along with exposure and other information) to make decisions to protect public health.
  6. Announced a workshop on formaldehydeThis workshop, which will be held in spring 2014, will focus on several scientific issues pertinent to assessing the potential health effects of inhaled formaldehyde.  We’re taking input on speakers/panelists and topics for three theme areas – you can send us your suggestions here.

I think you’ll agree we’ve been making tremendous progress!  These activities illustrate our commitment to scientific integrity, public input, and transparency as we work together to produce the highest quality scientific assessments to inform decisions to protect public health.

About the Author: Kacee Deener is the Communications Director in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, home of the IRIS Program.  She joined EPA 12 years ago and has a Masters degree in Public Health.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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HERO: Easier Way to Retrieve Information

By Pawlos Girmay

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Gerry Gurevich, the technical lead for EPA’s Health and Environmental Research Online—or HERO—database, which serves as a central location for the scientific information EPA researchers use to develop environmental and health assessments. Gerry explained some of the benefits of the HERO database and the changes that will occur over the coming months.

For starters, HERO has greatly enhanced transparency by providing links to the references and abstracts of  the scientific literature used in two important types of Agency assessments:  (1) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessments, which evaluate information on the potential health effects that may result from exposure to environmental contaminants, and (2) Integrated Science Assessments (ISAs), reports that summarize the science related to the health and ecological effects caused by the six criteria air pollutants for which EPA develops National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

With approximately 725,000 references, there is an abundance of information. If you need a scientific reference from an ISA or IRIS assessment, HERO will have it!

While HERO is already a terrific resource, EPA is still committed to making changes to improve the database. New versions of HERO are being pushed out monthly to improve performance. EPA will continue to provide updates as needed to make HERO a beneficial tool for anyone seeking scientific information about EPA’s assessment work.

Obviously, HERO could not function without the hard work and dedication of the staff that have made the database what it is today. Joining Gerry Gurevich, who has been working with HERO for the past four years, is “TeamHERO” – a group of librarians and data specialists.

During my time in the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, I found HERO to be an extremely valuable tool to search for scientific information. As part of the Open Government Directive to conduct business with transparency, participation, and collaboration, HERO helps the public participate in EPA’s work by providing information about the data behind health assessments that inform decisions to protect public health.

With many new advances in technology taking place, I am sure HERO will continue to expand and enhance stakeholder’s experiences.  You can explore it yourself here: Health and Environmental Research Online.

About the Author: Pawlos Girmay is a student intern in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment. He received his undergraduate degree from Howard University and his Masters of Science in Health Communications degree from Boston University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Stakeholder Engagement: The key to building more sustainable systems within the IRIS Program

By Elizabeth Corona

 

On November 13, I attended a public stakeholder meeting for EPA’s  Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program. During the meeting, IRIS leadership spoke about changes being considered to improve the Program, and stakeholders shared their views on the changes and made other recommendations.

Dr. Ken Olden, Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA), home of the IRIS Program, shared his vision for IRIS.  This vision is based on the idea that proactive stakeholder engagement and transparency will increase the scientific quality of IRIS assessments and the efficiency of the assessment development process. Vince Cogliano, Acting Director of the IRIS Program, then talked about some of the specific changes that stakeholders can expect in the coming year, such as improving peer review and using systematic review – an automated process to identify, evaluate, and integrate data – to develop IRIS assessments. 

The majority of the meeting, however, focused on listening to stakeholders. A panel of individuals from various stakeholder groups shared their views about IRIS. An open forum followed, during which participants (both in person and online), panelists, and NCEA leadership had a lively discussion. 

Stakeholder engagement is widely recognized as an essential element of sustainable organizational systems.  Meaningful engagement can help build mutual respect between parties, and ensure the quality and timeliness of outcomes. Its importance was recently emphasized by the National Research Council in their 2011 report “Sustainability and the U.S. EPA” (also known as the “Greenbook”). For several years now, EPA has been working to infuse sustainability and systems thinking into its research and other activities. This meeting was an excellent example of how the IRIS Program has embraced these concepts.

With sustainability as the new guiding principle for IRIS, the Program will become more resilient, enabling scientists to more easily take on new challenges and adjust as new risk assessment methods and types of data become available. Many stakeholders who participated in the November 13 meeting seemed excited about these changes and eager to see how our new direction improves the Program.

However, this is only the beginning. The long-term sustainability of the IRIS Program will require continued and frequent engagement with stakeholders representing a wide range of perspectives.

To make sure your voice is heard, visit the meeting webpage, view the meeting materials, provide your input through the “Virtual Comment Box,” and be on the lookout for the next opportunity to provide input!

For more information on the IRIS Program, planned changes, or future opportunities to engage, please visit the IRIS website or subscribe to the monthly Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) Bulletin. To subscribe, click here and enter your e-mail address.  

About the author: Elizabeth Corona is the Program Associate for EPA’s Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) research program. She joined the EPA two years ago and has a Ph.D. in Organizational Systems, with a focus on sustainability.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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EPA’s Path Forward for the Integrated Risk Information System Program

By Becki Clark

EPA has a lot to be proud of.  Today, we all enjoy cleaner air, water and land because of actions taken by EPA over the past 40 years.  One thing that I’m personally proud of is EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System Program, or IRIS, and the changes we are making in the Program.

IRIS assessments are not regulations or full risk assessments, but the information they contain about the potential human health effects from long-term exposure to chemicals provides an important part of the foundation for decisions made to protect the health of all Americans.

In April 2011, the National Research Council (NRC) gave EPA some recommendations for improving the development of IRIS assessments, and we are working hard to implement them.  At first, we focused on editing and streamlining documents.  We are now in the next phase of our work, and we will soon release two draft assessments that represent a major advancement for the Program in implementing the recommendations.

For anyone who is familiar with IRIS assessments, the changes we’ve made will be immediately apparent.  Assessments will look different because we are using a new document structure that is more streamlined, concise and clear. However, the changes are far from just cosmetic.  In fact, the IRIS Program is fundamentally changing the way we develop assessments – from the way we select and evaluate the quality of studies, weigh the overall evidence of each effect, and select studies for deriving toxicity values.

EPA recently announced that the National Academy of Sciences would conduct a review of the IRIS assessment development process and the changes being made in the Program.  They will also convene a workshop on weight of evidence and recommend approaches to EPA.  The NAS’ feedback will help guide us as we continue to improve IRIS assessments.  Additionally, the results of the weight of evidence workshop will help us develop or adopt a formal weight of evidence framework for health effects other than cancer.

I’m proud to be a part of IRIS, because it plays a significant role in protecting the health of our country’s citizens.  I believe that a strong, scientifically rigorous IRIS Program is of critical importance. That’s why I am committed to making the changes recommended by the NRC.  I am excited about these changes, and I think you will be pleased when you see the results.  My staff and I will continue to pursue excellence in the IRIS Program, using the most up-to-date science in support of EPA’s mission to protect the health of the American public.

About the Author:  Becki Clark is the Acting Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Science Wednesday: Modeling Matters: Transparency in Action

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection.Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Gabriel Olchin

In the age of transparent government, I think it helps to highlight specific products that make our research and approaches more apparent to the public. Transparency is important to me because I work in the field of environmental modeling, and models are often referred to as the ‘black-boxes’ of the research process; and a black-box is not transparent at all!

What does transparency mean, and why is it important to environmental modeling at the EPA?

The modeling research at the EPA is a complex science – one that we don’t take lightly. To me, transparency means providing the relevant information and documentation so that our stakeholders can understand how these ‘black boxes’ (models) work.

Models are used by the EPA for a variety of reasons: for regulatory rulemaking, as research tools, and to generate data that inform decisions. Each model used by the EPA is designed and developed with specific purposes in mind.

The EPA established the Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling in 2000 to improve the quality, consistency and transparency of the models for environmental decision making. In short, the CREM helps to make the EPA’s modeling transparent. We maintain the Models Knowledge Base, an inventory of the computational models that are developed, used, and/or supported by EPA’s offices. For each model, the Models Knowledge Base provides information or documentation on:

  • the model’s development;
  • the model’s conceptual basis, scientific detail, and evaluation;
  • technical requirements and how to use the model;
  • information on the model’s inputs and outputs; and
  • directions for acquiring the model and links to further information.

The CREM’s latest effort has been focused on developing a suite of training modules for environmental modeling. These modules are designed to take our technical guidance document on environmental modeling and make it transparent to a broader audience. We also developed training modules on the legal aspects of environmental modeling, integrated modeling, and technical topics of model evaluation.

I’m often humbled working at an Agency with such talented modelers. I really enjoy my role at EPA helping to make the great modeling work done in our program and regional offices more transparent to our stakeholders.

About the author: Gabriel Olchin, a biological scientist, has been in the Office of the Science Advisor with the Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling since 2009.

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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Help us serve you better by being more open!

Open EPA logoHave you heard about President Obama’s Open Government Directive (PDF) (81K, about PDF)? Under this plan, we’re looking for your help making EPA more transparent and finding ways for us to work with you better. The ultimate goal? Getting the best ideas for how we can meet our mission of protecting health and the environment.

I’m personally excited about this new effort because it ties in so well with many other projects that use new tools to connect with you and get you involved.  One of the first was this blog, launched in April 2008.  Since then, we’ve started Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts, put together online discussion forums, done some live video webcasts, and launched Pick 5 for the Environment.

To get started, check out our new open government Web site, which links to many innovative projects and our social media sites.

It also shows our progress on several milestones.  The next one is to write our open government plan.  It’s due April 7, so until March 19 we’re using a special idea collection system to get your thoughts about:

  • what should be in the plan
  • how we should prioritize what we publish
  • how to improve the quality of our information
  • new ways of doing business and new tools we should be using

You can also vote and comment on other people’s ideas.

I look forward to hearing from you!

About the author: Jeffrey Levy is EPA’s Director of Web Communications.

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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Transparent Calendars

About the author: Jeffrey Levy joined EPA in 1993 to help protect the ozone layer. He is now the Director of Web Communications.

A couple of weeks ago, EPA Administrator Jackson issued a memo calling for maximum transparency in everything we do. The memo put into EPA terms the ideas first espoused in the memo President Obama issued on his first full day in office, saying that government must be transparent, participatory, and collaborative.  The overarching theme is that you, the public, are entitled to know what we’re up to.

Those of us in EPA’s Web community really took notice, because our site and various social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) offer so many ways to serve those goals.  We have several projects underway.

image of a calendar pageOne of the first is that the Administrator publishes her daily working calendar showing meetings with the public.  Next, she directed her senior management team to do the same.

We’re now setting up the process, and you’ll soon be able to see who’s meeting with top EPA leaders.

It occurs to us, though, that we could do better than simply giving you a calendar in table form. What if you could download multiple calendars across EPA and other agencies, and then create mashups as you saw fit?

So we want to publish machine-readable formats, too. And that’s where you can help us. Please let us know what works best: comma delimited, something else?

Also, please help us understand how you’d use the info; that’ll help us figure out how to make it easier.

We’ll be coming back to you to ask for your help on other questions, too, so here’s to a long, collaborative discussion!

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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