Yesterday, the Executive Office of Energy and Environment (“EEA”) launched the first phase of its Energy and Environmental Information and Public Access System (“EIPAS”). EIPAS currently provides two portals: ePLACE provides citizens access to information on EEA and agency permit applications and final decisions, as well as to submit and view public comments on permit applications; whereas, the Data Portal contains MassDEP permit, inspection, facility and enforcement data. According to the release, EEA will update data daily, a tall but very helpful order.
Currently, EIPAS covers online permitting for DCR, MDAR, and MassDEP including virtually all MassDEP air quality permits. So far there are no mandatory regulations requiring online filing. Other types of MassDEP permits, such as solid waste permits, are not yet ready for electronic submittal. The site indicates that it hosts applications submitted online since May 5, 2017, but so far there are no entries.
Depending upon your point of view you will either be disappointed or elated by the limited data available on the Data Portal. Environmental watchdogs will be underwhelmed by the scant information provided. For example, the Enforcement tab provides only the date and general type of enforcement, plus the amount of the penalty assessed. Although the Data Portal does provide a convenient way to get a snap shot of a person, entity, or facility’s enforcement history, more information on individual enforcement cases is already available in a narrative format from press releases on the MassDEP website. If you are a regulated entity, you may be glad that the specific details of enforcement are not disclosed. What is new, however, is that Notices of Non-Compliance are listed. Before, the MassDEP generally only publicized resolved enforcement matters on its webpage. So, in some instances, the Data Portal presents a “guilty until proven innocent” picture by publicizing NONs before resolution.
If you hope to learn details about existing facility permits, you will also be disappointed. The Data Portal provides only the barest of details, such as describing a major RCRA treatment facility permit as a “HW09 TSD Class 1 Modification.” The actual permits themselves are not available, but the Data Portal does provide one stop shopping for a list of all relevant facility permits, which can be then requested through a targeted public records request.
We recommend that regulated entities review all relevant entries in the Data Portal and work with the EEA to ensure the completeness and accuracy of their publicly available information. Also, we recommend that all parties involved in project permitting develop strategies to manage the effects of ready public access to permit applications online.
For questions, call or email Tom Mackie.