Kimberly Nelson - Environmental Protection Agency

Monday - 7/26/2004, 2:01am EDT

FEDERALNEWSRADIO.COM: Before we get in to some of the things you’re working on right now, give me an update on the e-rulemaking initiative. Where do you stand on that?

NELSON: As you know, the e-rulemaking initiative was launched in January of 2003. We’re about 18 months into the project. I think this is one of the greatest e-gov initiatives that we’ve seen in a long time. This initiative has the potential to involve millions of citizens in the way we govern this country. We launched 18 months ago, and since that time we’ve seen almost a half million different people come to that site and get information about rules across the entire federal government. We think it’s very exciting. The involvement of citizens in the work of federal agencies is going to change as a result of making this kind of service available to citizens across the country.

FEDERALNEWSRADIO.COM: You gave me an answer there [on how many have visited] about a half million so far. Do you have any idea what the potential could be and how you would ramp up to meet that demand?

NELSON: We’ve got millions and millions of citizens in the country, so the potential is unlimited. What we’re doing to ramp up to the demand is to expand the services. Right now you can find any rule that’s been published by any federal agency in one place. You can search a key word you might be interested in, if it happens to be something related to health like mercury, or if it happens to be something related to recreation, or your business, you can search on a key word and find any rule which is amazing. In the next version, which we intend to come on line later this year and through 2005, not only will you be able to see every rule, but you’ll be able to see every single comment that’s been submitted in response to a rule. So if you really want to follow what people have been saying about a particular rule, you can log on every day and see what people across the country are saying in response to a policy enacted, or a rule. Before if you wanted to do that, you’d have to go every day and sit in a dark room someplace, usually in the basement of a building, and sift through paper after paper after paper. But now you can sit in the comfort of your living room or a library or your office and see what people are saying about rules. And maybe that kind of online involvement may even affect your personal opinion or your professional opinion and you may want to adjust your comments. So it makes it very interactive. It makes real-time government decision making for citizens that want to be involved.

FEDERALNEWSRADIO.COM: Let me move on to something else. At EPA, why was it necessary for your to expand the information exchange network? And, can you give me a brief explanation of what that network does?

NELSON: I’m not sure the word “expand” is actually accurate. The Environmental Information Exchange Network is something brand new. This is a partnership that came about from the states, the tribes and the EPA, and it’s all part of a vision that we have that decision makers, environmental policy makers and citizens across the country should have access to the most accurate, the most timely, the most relevant environmental information. What we’re doing through this exchange network is using the technology that the private sector uses in the e-commerce world. So for the first time we’re applying these new tools and techniques to share information between states and tribes and EPA and other decision makers. This is significant for a couple of reasons. First it will eliminate a lot of redundancy in state government and save the states a lot of money. And because we’re giving them grants of up to $20 million a year, we’re actually paying the states to improve and enhance and modernize their information systems. And ultimately, the reason it is important to citizens, is that we will all, across the country, have access to better environmental data, more timely data, and ultimately more information about the condition of the environment. I’ll give you one example that’s really relevant because it’s summertime. One of the grants that we recently gave to New Jersey and some other states that have coastal beaches is a grant that will allow for the exchange of beach information. Through one of our grants, New Jersey is giving information on a daily basis to a group called Earth 911, a nonprofit, so that citizens can log on every day and see if the beach they want to go to today or tomorrow is open. And that’s an example of how powerful the network is.