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EPA’s Transparency Initiatives Aimed to Expose Violators – The Best of Disinfectants or a Scarlet Letter?

On February 7, 2013, EPA launched a new interactive transparency tool as part of its Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database intended to provide information about the performance of state and EPA enforcement and compliance programs across the country. According to EPA, the “dashboards and maps include state level data from the last five years and provide information including the number of completed inspections, types of violations found, enforcement actions taken, and penalties assessed by state.”

EPA’s latest action represents a growing trend by the agency over the last few years to make enforcement data publicly available with the aim of improving environmental compliance and accountability. These efforts include the ECHO Database and EPA’s “Watch List,” along with other databases such as “Envirofacts” and “MyEnvironment” that allow the public to search data by zip code, city, facility name, and related information.

Coupled with the agency’s transparency initiatives, however, are significant concerns that have arisen regarding the quality and accuracy of data in these databases. On January 17, 2013, for example, EPA’s Inspector General announced it would evaluate the “Watch List” in response to alleged problems with the use of outdated information or generally otherwise unreliable data.

Persons interested in learning more about EPA’s newest transparency tool are invited to join a webinar hosted by EPA. On a related front, EPA is currently soliciting public comment on its National Enforcement Initiative FY2014-2016 and its Next Generation Compliance Initiative through February 27, 2013.