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Beyond Compliance: Preliminary Findings from an Investigation of Climate and Flooding Data Systems in the United States

December 6, 2023

Government agencies and researchers in the United States have collected and shared environmental and climate data for decades in an effort to understand how climate change is impacting our communities, infrastructures, industries, and ecosystems. Much of this data is open in theory; many datasets maintained by federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are required to make their data publicly available and usable.But large gaps in available data and granularity issues prevent meaningful public use. Other sources—municipal governments, university researchers, and community data collection projects—can help fill data gaps. Still, these sources face their own challenges, such as unclear licensing agreements, limited resources or technical capacity, as well as equity concerns (including data collection procedures that result in poorer quality data regarding low income neighborhoods).Modernizing this data infrastructure, as well as channels for integrating information from different sources, can support actors both within and outside of government to use this wealth of data for a variety of purposes.As part of the larger Beyond Compliance initiative, which aims to make government-derived environmental data more accessible and usable to a diversity of users and for a range of purposes, we are investigating challenges and opportunities related to data in the context of climate change resilience and adaptation planning.

Beyond Compliance: Preliminary Findings from an Investigation of Environmental Health Data Systems in the United States

August 8, 2022

The Beyond Compliance project seeks to understand common approaches and challenges to environmental data management and sharing, as well as to identify areas for exploration and improvement. The first phase of this project focuses on data systems used or maintained by actors assessing environmental health: federal agencies, state departments of health and environment, researchers, and environmental justice organizations. Because data and information involved in these assessments are often hard to find, access, understand, assess, or integrate, it can be a challenge to paint an accurate picture of health risks. Furthermore, how results, guidance, and new data are shared depend on actors' respective goals, though we identified commonalities. This report explains our methods of investigation, identifies key themes and takeaways from our research, illustrates these with case studies, and poses some open questions and next steps.

Opportunity Brief: Environmental Data as a Public Good

November 10, 2021

Environmental data, which takes many forms, is essential for effective climate action, environmental management and public health protection, but has not been prioritized as a useful tool. Current incentives, standards, rules, and regulations related to environmental data are not always workable for communities collecting and using data, nor for government actors who could use this data to better inform policy and decision making. An opportunity to make environmental data work better for us lies in recognizing it as a public good.This brief presents the opportunity to firmly establish environmental data as a public good in both the traditional sense of being non-rival and non-excludable, as well as in expanding the conceptualization of public goods to include utility and equity. To fully reach its potential as a public good, government, community, and academic stakeholders must address four major barriers: (i) lack of awareness of, (ii) overabundance of, (iii) the potential to misuse, and (iv) lack of infrastructure for environmental data resources. The data and its infrastructure must also be workable and useful for users with diverse experiences, capacities, and access to resources.The current political moment presents several opportunities for the use of environmental data as a public good in service of environmental justice and climate solutions. Any efforts to leverage these opportunities should also support understanding, accountability, and the need for useful tools and infrastructure beyond this political cycle.