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Environmental Justice Data Liberation

EDGI is liberating environmental justice data. UC Davis researchers face familiar public data quality issues studying state RPS policies.

We’ve come across a few allied projects looking at environmental justice data specifically, and thought it would be nice to share!

Environmental Enforcement Watch

In May, Christina and I gave a talk at CSV,Conf,v6 about things we’ve learned liberating US energy system data. We focused a lot on the challenge of making data accessible to advocates. The following talk was analogous, but focused on environmental justice data. The speaker was Kelsey Breseman (@ifoundtheme) from the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) and their project Environmental Enforcement Watch (EEW). EEW is trying to hold polluters accountable using federally reported data, by making that data more accessible to and understandable by the people who are affected. They’re scraping the data from the web and creating a database that folks can query using Google CoLab notebooks. At the same time they’re trying to get EPA the full underlying database accessible to the public.

You can watch her excellent talk here:

I was struck by how many parallels there were between our work. We’re both trying to mitigate the poor curation of government data, and make it more accessible way to the public. EDGI also seems very open and GitHub centered and is trying to operate as a horizontal organization. They support themselves through foundation grants and volunteer labor. Nobody works on EDGI full time. They have a fiscal sponsorship agreement through Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP).

If you’re interested in public data and environmental justice they seem like a great organization! Maybe we can collaborate at some point.

Equity Mapping Renewable Energy Facilities

UC Davis PhD student Greg Miller pointed us at research being done by post-doc Ingrid Behrsin (@IngridBehrsin) and Johanna Heyer (@johanna_heyer), trying to catalog all of the facilities nationwide that are being counted against various state renewable portfolio standards. They gave this 20 minute brown-bag style talk a few weeks ago (the first of two talks in this video):

A lot of the problems they’re facing were all too familiar. For instance, not all states explicitly report the facilities that count against their RPS. The ones that do report often don’t make the data available in a format that’s easy to analyze. They use spreadsheets with header rows interleaved with the data. State data often don’t include the EIA or EPA facility IDs for joining the data with other datasets. They highlighted some of these issues in a recent OpEd on Utility Dive.

After a lot of automated and manual facility name munging they’ve merged the state-level reporting with the EIA-860, which lets them geocode the facilities. What they want to do now is look at how “dirty renewables” — things that qualify under dubious state regulations like the burning of waste coal and municipal waste — correlate with demographics.

We’ve got support to work on a related project by the Sloan Foundation: compiling machine readable specifications of state-level RPS’ and clean energy standards. Knowing what kinds of facilities count where will let energy modelers use these policies as constraints on future system planning scenarios. If we know which facilities are already being counted against those standards it’ll be easier for us to know whether we’ve captured the most important characteristics of the regulations.

By Zane Selvans

A former space explorer, now marooned on a beautiful, dying world.

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