EPA data littered with errors and gaps

A new study calls the Environmental Protection Agency’s data on regulated facilities erroneous and incomplete, suggesting that the agency create a single, centralized data system.

The National Academy of Public Administration, an independent advisory organization, facilitated the report. In conducting the study, NAPA drew from a consortium of businesses, environmental activists, states and information technology experts -- with representatives from OMB Watch, the Environmental Defense and the University of Maryland. EPA funded the effort.

“Over the past 30 years, agency data on regulated facilities have been highly fragmented and incomplete,” the study states.

The study, released Monday, calls for EPA to create one agencywide “Master File” system that would combine data on all federally regulated facilities, such as water treatment plants, gas companies and chemical manufacturers.

Currently, EPA, state environmental agencies and program offices -- such as air, water, and waste divisions separately collect their own data. Because of this decentralized data management, regulated facilities have to report their information multiple times. Discrepancies arise when these segregated systems aggregate results, the report states.

Inconsistent and incorrect data on facilities is due to poor management, not technical feasibility, according to the report.

Key among the guidelines for a Master File: EPA should provide public access to the system through an online interface, listing the facilities’ environmental requirements and actual performance.

The study’s authors write, “An integrated facility identification system would offer regulators and the public a quicker and more accurate way to compare, for example, the toxic releases reported by companies to EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory with the amounts allowed by state permits.”

Local emergency management officials need to know the complete inventories of hazardous chemicals held by facilities so they can ensure their security and prepare for potential accidents, the report states.

EPA officials said they have been working to unify data but declined to comment on the specifics of the document, saying they have not completed a review of its contents.

“We’ve had a data standardization program under way for five or six years now," EPA spokeswoman Diane Esanu said.

Other NAPA recommendations include:

* Programs and agencies should collaborate on standard procedures and definitions for operating the shared Master File.

* Programs and agencies should collaborate on a uniform means of tracking the identities of regulated facilities, as they frequently change names, operations, ownership, etc.

* EPA should require all offices to adopt and use the facility ID data in the agency’s shared Master File.

* EPA should modify rules and policies as needed to clarify that regulated facilities can meet need only submit updated information to the single, shared Master File.


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