100s of New Fed Datasets Released, Many Environmental

January 27, 2010

Environmental reporters who use databases to find and build stories have a fresh windfall thanks to President Obama's efforts to open up the federal government.

On Jan. 22, over 40 federal agencies published hundreds of new datasets via the open government clearinghouse This includes three new datasets from EPA, PLUS many other datasets relevant to environmental issues.

All of this data was released in response to a Dec. 8, 2009, White House open government order. It directs: "Within 45 days, each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets... and register those data sets via These must be data sets not previously available online or in a downloadable format."

The definition of "high-value data" is rather nebulous: "High-value information is information that can be used to increase agency accountability and responsiveness; improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations; further the core mission of the agency; create economic opportunity; or respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation."

How high-value do these datasets seem to you? You can rate each dataset. Also, note the context (or lack thereof) for each dataset. InformationWeek noted on Jan. 25: "the data sets might... indicate a lack of guidance and weaknesses in the [open government] requirements to add any context for why certain data sets are being released or what they even contain."

SEJ member Robert Weinhold observes that the datasets released by USDA, in particular, seem "pretty low value — and most, if not all, were already available."


ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. Here are the new databases published by the US EPA.

  1. Chesapeake Bay Program Water Quality Database: This is a fairly comprehensive collection of several databases that interoperate. It includes many kinds of environmental data about the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding watersheds. Data components are updated every month or two. Includes "baseline monitoring data, summarized data and environmental indicators that document ecosystem status and trends, confirm linkages between water quality, habitat quality and abundance, and the distribution and integrity of biological populations are also available," and more.
  2. ToxCast Phase I: This is the results of EPA's chemical toxicity testing program for thousands of environmental chemicals which formerly lacked toxicity data. It's a one-time data dump that appears to have no update schedule.
  3. Toxics Release Inventory Chemical Hazard Information Profile (TRI-CHIP) Dataset: This is "hazard information about the chemicals reported in TRI. Users can use this XML-format dataset to create their own databases and hazard analyses of TRI chemicals."


JUSTICE DEPARTMENT. Three datasets from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program. RECA info. Contact: 800-729-7327, email.


INTERIOR DEPARTMENT.  Press: 202-208-6416.


FEMA/DHS.  Press: 202-646-3272, email. Program info.

  • FEMA Disaster Declarations Summary 1953 to present. "County not available before 1964; Fire Management records are considered partial due to historical nature of the dataset." Database.
  • FEMA Hazard Mitigation Program Summary — grant-funded projects. Database.


ENERGY INFORMATION AGENCY (DOE). State Energy Data System (SEDS): "State-level energy use by major economic sectors, energy production and and State-level energy price and expenditure data. Data are presented in physical units, BTUs, and dollars."


NASA/JPL. Press: Alan Buis, 818-354-0474.

  • OnEarth: "These data will improve our understanding of global dynamics and processes occurring on the land, in the oceans, and in the lower atmosphere. [This program plays a] vital role in the development of validated, global, interactive Earth system models able to predict global change accurately enough to assist policy makers in making sound decisions concerning the protection of our environment." Database. Program info.
  • Land Surface Temperature at Night: "Where it is too hot or too cold, food crops may die. Temperature also influences weather and climate patterns." Database. Program info.


NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION. NSF FOIA requests received Oct. 2008 - Sept. 2009.


NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION. NRC commercial contracts valued $100,000 or more.


SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION. US City and County Web Data: "Mashup of URLs for city and county web sites and city and county location data from the USGS Geographic Names Information System."


US GLOBAL CHANGE RESEARCH PROGRAM (EOP). Budget Crosscut: "Budget authority for Agency activities on observations, research, and analysis of climate change and its underlying causes; managing data in support of climate research and applications; modeling and predicting climate change and its impacts at global, regional, and local scales; analyses of climate impacts; vulnerability of ecosystems, human health, and socioeconomic activity to climate; and implications and efficacy of adaptation options, decision support tools that inform climate adaptation and mitigation. This crosscut does not include activities that implement adaptation and mitigation strategies."


NATIONAL NANOTECHNOLOGY INITIATIVE (EOP).  Investments, FY 2001-2010, by agency and program component area. Program info. Press: Ken Vest, 703-292-4503.


OVERSEAS PRIVATE INVESTMENT CORP. Program info. Press: Timothy Harwood, 202-336-8744.



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