The Internet is becoming a great tool for getting information on facilities that are emitting air pollution, discharging water pollution, and generating hazardous wastes. In the past, this information was difficult for the public to access, and in some cases either was not made available to the public, or required a Freedom of Information Act filing to obtain. This is changing as more states and the federal government is making this information available on line.
The latest effort comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which has released enforcement results for fiscal year 2009, and has developed a new Web-based tool and interactive map that allows the public to get detailed information by location about the enforcement actions taken at approximately 4,600 facilities.
In FY2009, EPA concluded enforcement actions requiring polluters to invest more than $5 billion on pollution controls, cleanup, and environmental projects. Civil and criminal defendants committed to install controls and take other measures to reduce pollution by approximately 580 million pounds annually once all required controls are fully implemented.
The new mapping tool allows the public to view the locations of facilities that were the subject of those enforcement actions on interactive maps of the U.S. and territories. The maps show facilities where civil enforcement actions were taken for environmental laws for air, water, and land pollution, and a separate map shows criminal enforcement actions.
Visitors to the web site can click on specific facilities to find historical information about specific enforcement actions, such as violations and monetary penalties. In addition, viewers can use the zoom function to find out which facilities are located near water bodies that are listed as “impaired” because they do not meet federal water quality standards.
EPA mapped the locations of more than 90 percent of the facilities that were the subject of enforcement actions last year. EPA did not map the locations of drinking water treatment plants due to potential security concerns.
For the past 10 years, EPA has described annual enforcement results by focusing primarily on two measures, the estimated pounds of pollutants reduced and estimated cost of commitments made by defendants to control or reduce pollution. These measures vary significantly from year to year and are dependent upon the number of large cases that settle in a given year.
While these large cases are a vital part of our work to protect public health and improve compliance, they do not reflect the totality of the annual environmental enforcement activities, and do not capture the number and variety of enforcement actions taken to help clean up local communities. The new mapping tool will help increase transparency, improve access to data, and provide the public with the bigger picture of enforcement activity occurring in communities around the country.
Image shows enforcement cases in region shown. Colors show types of actions, and clicking on a case dot brings up detail information on the case.
For more information: EPA
Article by Roger Greenway, appearing courtesy of ENN