Democratizing Data Reports Released by EDGI’s Environmental Enforcement Watch

Seventy-six congressional report cards released by Environmental Data & Governance Initiative’s Environmental Enforcement Watch on October 22, 2020, show a decline in compliance and enforcement for key U.S. environmental laws under the Trump administration. The report cards are summarized in the new report, Democratizing Data: Environmental Enforcement Watch’s Report Cards for Congressional Oversight of the EPA, which provides for the first time an analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data on compliance and enforcement in the districts and states of the representatives and senators serving on the two congressional committees tasked with overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency.

Practicing Our Right to Know, Together — Review of EEW Congressional Report Card Workshops to Date

Last Thursday 20+ organizers, students, activists and academics gathered for the second of four online workshops to practice our right to know about environmental hazards together by making congressional district report cards on industry compliance with and EPA enforcement of environmental laws. Building on EDGI’s findings that enforcement of environmental laws dropped precipitously under the Trump administration, we are developing report cards for each member of Congress involved in the House and Senate Committees responsible for EPA oversight (the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee). These Environmental Enforcement Watch or “EEW” Report Cards provide members of Congress and their constituents with data on violations of environmental laws, facility inspections, and enforcement actions in their districts since 2001. As the EPA is mandated by Congress to enforce environmental laws, we aim to provide legislators with an informative analysis based on EPA’s own data of compliance with and enforcement of environmental laws in the districts they serve.

More Permission to Pollute: The Decline of EPA Enforcement and Industry Compliance during COVID

On March 26, 2020, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a policy memo suspending pollution monitoring requirements for industries that claim to have been impacted by COVID-19. Since then, as part of EDGI’s ongoing Environmental Enforcement Watch (EEW) project, we have conducted original data science research using EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online ECHO database to investigate the effects of this policy on facility reporting of environmental data and compliance with environmental protection laws.

Results show that although few facilities have claimed the COVID exemption, a significant proportion of facilities are still failing to report. This reflects longer-term trends in and issues with both industry non-compliance and EPA non-enforcement. We cannot afford a return to “normal”. Non-compliance with the nations environmental protection laws is already rampant – as high as 70% of facilities under some regulatory programs.

Meet the Interns: Environmental Enforcement Watch

Environmental Enforcement Watch (EEW) is EDGI’s latest project. A collaborative effort across several of our working groups, EEW is a series of online workshops aimed at increasing EPA ECHO data literacy through our custom Jupyter Notebooks, in an effort to foster community research and polluter accountability. Our interns—young, passionate individuals—have put in countless hours developing and fine-tuning every aspect of our EEW workshops. We thank them for their many ideas and efforts, without which EEW would not be what it is today. Without further ado, here are our interns: