What Do Light bulbs and the Shenandoah Valley Have in Common?

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

Portrait of Molly O'NeillAs the Agency’s CIO, people ask me questions all the time. And some of the time they are questions that any good steward of the environment should know the answer to. Or at least, know how to find the answer.

Recently a friend of mine asks, “Molly, I wanted to support Earth Day, so I got some of those energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. What happens if it breaks? It’s got mercury in there!”

Off hand I didn’t know the answer, but figured a quick search on epa.gov would get me the answer. After I popped in the search field “flourescent light bulb” my results started with the question, “Did you mean: fluorescent light bulb?” Why yes, I did… thanks for catching that typo! I clicked on the link epa.gov/mercury/spills and pretty quickly found the info my friend was looking for.

The good news is there’s a lot of information out there. Navigating through that information is the challenge. Thanks to some new search capabilities on epa.gov, finding information has become easier. But we can do more.

And what if the “how do I” question isn’t so straightforward? I had a recent inquiry from a Shenandoah Valley community group leader asking how to find comprehensive environmental information to better assess their ecosystem. That question is a bit tougher and you’re not going to find the answer with a simple search engine inquiry.

I pointed my colleague to EPA’s Window to My Environment, Envirofacts, and the Toxic Release Inventory web sites; all great tools to help them get started with assessing the Shenandoah Valley. Also, I mentioned that states are important partners in our mission to protect human health and the environment.

Providing the resources to answer these complex questions is something I’m striving to do better with the Office of Environmental Information. For several weeks now, we have led a campaign called the National Dialogue for Access to Environmental Information to hear from stakeholders and our own employees about ways we can improve. Through this effort – and I’m inviting all readers of this blog to participate – we will be addressing ways to make information more readily available.

Also, come chat with me this afternoon from 2-3, where I’ll be taking your questions live in Ask EPA, our online forum where you can talk to senior officials.

I look forward to hearing your ideas!

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