The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is developing a reporting system that will, for the first time, give the public immediate access to information on whether individuals, businesses and local governments are complying with environmental laws and regulations.

DEP Executive Secretary David E. Hess recently outlined the proposed reporting system to the DEP's Citizen Advisory Council and said the department is seeking help from council, advisory committees and public in designing the final system.

"DEP's first obligation is to bring individuals, business and local governments into compliance with environmental laws and regulation," Hess said. "But Pennsylvania has never reported to the public on whether people are, in fact, complying.

"We believe the public deserves to know the answers to basic questions like - Who is and isn't complying with the law? What actions have been taken to ensure compliance? What are the most frequent and significant violations and what is being done about them? How does my local facility compare to the way other facilities are complying? Who has adopted pollution prevention and eliminating waste at the source as a compliance strategy?"

Over the next two years, the DEP will develop an Environmental Compliance Reporting System that will define important environmental and administrative violations for each program, a pilot environmental compliance system that the public can access through the DEP's web site, an annual compliance report and a permanent computerized reporting system.

Details of the components include:

  • Defining important violations. The DEP is now completing a catalog of violations for each program which will list each violation that could occur under the program and classify them into significant violations with a direct environmental impact or as important administrative/reporting violations. The department will ask its advisory committees to review the catalog.

  • Developing a Pilot Environmental Compliance Reporting System. The pilot system, now being developed, will be the testing ground for designing the permanent compliance reporting system, due to go on-line in about two years. The pilot system will collect basic information on compliance actions ranging from inspections, violations, orders and penalties, as well as efforts that use pollution prevention to achieve compliance. The pilot system will be available on the DEP's website.

  • Developing an annual Environmental Compliance Report. The annual report will give the public and individual facilities an opportunity to compare their local compliance efforts with those in a particular permit category and will also allow DEP managers to identify the most frequent violations and develop programs to bring facilities into compliance.

Hess said that the new compliance reporting system is now possible because of agencywide improvements that the DEP is making to its internal data management system and the new Internet technology available to the department, not because of any increased reporting by facilities regulated by the DEP. The department regulates an estimated 225,000 sites.

Even with the new system, Hess said reporting on compliance must be linked to other measurable environmental indicators to show if environmental protection programs are actually resulting in a cleaner environment. "Just complying with existing laws may not result in the environmental improvements we want if the laws set standards for the wrong things," he said.