Environmental Protection? There's An App for That Environmental Protection? There's An App for That

Environmental Protection? There's An App for That

by Ben Jervey

June 12, 2011

For a while now, the Environmental Protection Agency has been working to make its public data more accessible. In fact, in her "First Day Memo" from over two years ago, administrator Lisa Jackson included improved transparency as one of the main goals for the agency.

Yesterday, the agency announced a new contest that should help make its vast data sets easier to digest: The "Apps for the Environment Challenge."

Here's how they describe it:

EPA is challenging app developers to look at EPA data and come up with the best, most useful, innovative way to use, show, or combine publically available EPA data in an app. In short, we'd like you to take EPA data and show us what you can do.

So, yes, it's a contest, and if you're interested in entering, you'll have to submit something by September 16th. But for the vast majority of us out here who don't know code from Mandarin, the mere fact that the E.P.A. is encouraging the public to do this is welcome news.

There's already been some interesting work done, and even some apps. The EPA has three of its own created internally—a Design for the Environment label app, a real-time UV index, and the My Right-to-Know app that lets users log on and see what kinds of air, water, and waste hazards are nearby.

But things get really exciting when you look at the apps created by outside developers. The Creek Watch app by an IBM team encourages "citizen scientists" to collect data and photos of local waterways, and combines that with official EPA data to help local municipalities make official decisions and local citizens make recreation choices. MPGFacts gives you the latest EPA fuel efficiency data and gas mileage ratings for basically any vehicle sold in the country since 1984. MyAirQuality tells you—you guessed it!—the quality of the air, wherever you stand.

But in all, the EPA only lists eleven apps developed by outside parties that are harnessing their data. Hopefully, this Apps for the Environment Challenge will give us a heck of a lot more.

Ben Jervey More Info

Ben is a writer and editor covering climate change, energy, and environment, and is currently the Climate and Energy Media Fellow at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor at GOOD Magazine and his work has appeared regularly in National Geographic News, Grist, DeSmogBlog, and OnEarth. He recently worked with the non-profit Focus the Nation to publish an Energy 101 primer. When living in New York City, he wrote a book, The Big Green Apple, on how to live a lower impact life in the city. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.
Some recent articles by Ben Jervey:
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Environmental Protection? There's An App for That