EPA, Nebraska sign data-sharing pact

Nebraska and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have signed the first agreement under an effort to build a nationwide network for sharing environmental information.

The trading partner agreement between the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and EPA's Region 7, based in Kansas City, Kan., spells out how and when the agencies will share information about the facilities they regulate in Nebraska.

It's the first step toward enabling the sharing of state and EPA data through the National Environmental Information Exchange Network. When completed, NEIEN will enable states and the EPA to share information more easily, improve data accuracy and broaden public access.

The project was launched during the Clinton administration and received a boost this year when President Bush included a $25 million grant program in his fiscal 2002 budget request to help states develop the infrastructure to participate in the network.

"This administration is following up with the support of what we've been doing, so it's been fantastic," said Kristen Dunne, senior project manager for the Environmental Council of States, a key participant in the NEIEN initiative.

Dennis Burling, information technology manager for NDEQ, said his agency and the EPA will share facilities' data using Extensible Markup Language and agreed-upon standards. Ironing out differences in data formats is a major hurdle to enabling states and the EPA to share environmental information, Burling said.

Initially the data shared under the agreement will include facilities' names, addresses, phone numbers, contact people and other general information. Eventually, environmental information such as air releases will be included, said Maryane Tremaine, data steward coordinator for EPA Region 7.

When NEIEN is completed, each state that decides to participate will have its own node on the network through which it can submit and obtain environmental information. States will also be able to share data.

For example, that would help Maryland and Delaware exchange information about the Chesapeake Bay more easily, Dunne said. As of now, state environmental data is not linked or standardized, so sharing is difficult, she said.

The other states under EPA Region 7's jurisdiction — Iowa, Missouri and Kansas — are evaluating Nebraska's agreement, but no agreements from them are pending, Tremaine said. But it's only a matter of time. Burling said, "There will be others to follow."

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