SEJ submission to EPA re: public comments on ECHO database, March 2003

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March 20, 2003

Rebecca Kane
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
Mail Code 2222A
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20460

Dear Ms. Kane:

The Society of Environmental Journalists ( is the largest and oldest organization of individual working journalists covering environmental issues. On behalf of our more than 1,280 members, we are writing to comment on the EPA's new ECHO website.

In an increasingly complex world, journalists reporting in the public interest have turned to computer-assisted techniques to help them make sense of issues they cover. This is certainly the case with journalists who cover the environment.

In general, the evolution of access to environmental data at EPA websites has been very positive. We want to see that trend continue, and appreciate the agency's initial steps with its ECHO database. Our additional comments follow:

  • Please allow for both Web analysis as well as the downloading of raw compliance data. It's important for journalists to be able to look at facility data within varied geographic areas, and to be able to sort, tally and otherwise analyze that data from different angles.
  • Please do everything you can to make sure the information is as accurate as possible. But journalists understand that no database is 100 percent perfect. Don't let some level of imperfection, perhaps based on lack of data reported from state and local agencies, stop your efforts to make compliance data available to the public in a timely manner.
  • Efforts you have already made to show why data may be lacking are helpful. If you fully disclose and discuss any possible causes of inaccuracies or absence of data, this will help the public — and journalists — understand the limits of the data and take those into account.
A searchable online database of enforcement/compliance information is an essential and irreplaceable tool for journalists. It vastly improves journalists' ability to write stories that not only hold permit holders accountable, but also allows them to better understand how these environmental laws are being enforced.

Please keep up your work to bring this vital information to the public. In doing so, you will assist journalists who are dependent upon the free flow of information in their own efforts to serve the public with coverage of environmental issues that is essential to the proper functioning of our democracy.


James Bruggers
SEJ board and First Amendment Task Force member

Dan Fagin
SEJ President

Ken Ward, Jr.
SEJ First Amendment Task Force chair

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