Delaware first on EPA network

Environmental Protection Agency

The first state in the union is now also the first one on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Information Exchange Network.

Delaware has completed development of its Exchange Network node, making it the first state to have its server operational and able to share vital environmental information on the new network, according to EPA officials.

The EPA has encouraged states and tribal agencies to use the Exchange Network to share environmental data. Under the EPA's plan, participating agencies would develop nodes that can be used to enter their information.

"The purpose was to create a seamless interface for sharing environmental information," said EPA Chief Information Officer Kim Nelson. "We'll get data at higher quality, data that's more timely and data that's more similar."

Fostered by the EPA, states can receive federal grants towards the development of these nodes. So far this year, the EPA has awarded grants to eight states, with a total of 69 awards planned for the year.

EPA has a budget of $20 million for the grants. Since the Exchange Network's conception in 2002, all 50 states have received grants during the program, along with 35 Indian tribes. On Aug. 12, Delaware, Kansas, Maryland and North Dakota, along with the Washington, D.C., and Indian tribes in Oklahoma and New York received the latest round of grants.

There are 10 to 15 other states currently testing nodes, according to Mark Luttner, office director of the EPA's Office of Information Collection.

"We're trying to get there, and it's somewhat challenging," Luttner said. "I think this early group has adopted it by and large across the board — that's why they were able to develop it so quickly."

States can receive grants individually or through the program's challenge grant category, which lets states share the money and work together in their developments.

"One of the things we're seeing with that is the degree of cooperation and collaboration that's occurring between the states," Nelson said. "That's what our network is about — sharing our knowledge, but also sharing our resources."

The Exchange Network is part of EPA's larger goal of streamlining and coordinating a one-stop information exchange service among the national, state and tribal level. EPA currently operates the Central Data Exchange network, on which states and agencies can submit information to the agency. The CDX will serve as EPA's node on the network, according to future plans.

EPA is also working towards the development of a main portal, to be used as a sole source for the delivery and submission of all environmental data. EPA officials hope to have a prototype of that portal system operational in 2004.

The Exchange Network encourages an overall view of the environment on a national level, Nelson said.

"If we ever want to have a true national picture of the environment, then we need to aggregate the data among all fifty states," Nelson said. "This has been a tremendous partnership with the states. We couldn't even begin to do this without them."

At the same time, the new network lets states host their own data, rather than relying on the EPA, Nelson said. And the arrangement would let states enter data just once, instead of doing it again for national agencies, he added.

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