EPA, DOT drive toward better data-sharing

EPA, DOT drive toward better data-sharing

In an effort to increase efficiency in regulating emissions from cars and trucks, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency have created a data sharing system to streamline the way manufacturers and agencies report and receive greenhouse gas emissions data.

Under current laws, automobile manufacturers are required to report fuel economy testing results –  Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) data -- that eventually make their way to both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality  (OTAQ). 

For years, the process entailed duplicate reporting for the vehicle manufacturers and separate data collection systems, which resulted in the agencies emailing each other PDFs. In fact, NHTSA was receiving data from the EPA via email and CD and conducting enforcement activities via spreadsheets, according to Dawn Timmons-Jones, senior project and investment manager at NHTSA.

 “We realized that the way that we were doing it was probably not the most efficient or effective,” said Sara Zaremski, EPA's director for the Data Analysis and Information Center at OTAQ.

When the NHTSA began exploring ways to modernize its own emissions reporting for light-duty cars and trucks in late 2012, it sparked the idea for a consolidated system that could leverage EPA data to serve both agencies.

Timmons-Jones reached out to the EPA, which manages the Central Data Exchange (CDX) used to standardize and centralize data reporting by regulated communities. “I was looking for an electronic exchange of data” that would be in line with the ideas we had for our new light duty system, she said. “It started from there."

So NHTSA and EPA teamed up to create a consolidated, streamlined approach to compliance reporting in which greenhouse gas and CAFE data would be collected once, in one database.

The NHTSA “brought us all together, and we kicked it off from there and created an integrated product,” said Zaremski. The agencies drafted an interagency agreement that effectively made EPA a service provider to NHTSA. “I’m giving [the EPA] funding to modify their system to meet our needs,” said NHTSA’s Timmons-Jones.

Manufacturers now submit CAFE and greenhouse gas data through the EPA’s CDX. After undergoing compliance and certification checks, the data is automatically made available to NHTSA through the CDX, and is accessible by all the service’s consumers.

NHTSA can pull the data from EPA’s CDX node on the Exchange Network, the secure online data exchange platform that it uses to share data with its participating consumers. Using the Exchange Network gave NHTSA already-certified, XML-formatted data in real time and reduced its need for custom code development.  

With the improved system, the NHTSA enforcement team now can track any plans, automatically issue enforcement actions and easily view all reporting -- abandoning the static PDFs and spreadsheets that previously were put on the website every six months or so. Now, reports can be published as frequently as needed.

“The enforcement team no longer has to look at spreadsheets to see if certain car manufacturers didn’t make their fuel efficiency goal,” said Timmons-Jones. If they didn’t, the team can easily take the necessary actions to fine or penalize. And when manufacturers do meet the goal, they are rewarded with “CAFE credits.”

The full system came online for NHTSA and the EPA in August 2014, after security requirements were addressed and the interagency agreements were finalized. So far, the feedback has been positive from both agency users and the manufacturers, minimizing the need for additional costs, training, infrastructure and time.

“From the manufacturers, they welcome the fact that we listen to their feedback and are not forcing them to learn a new system,” Timmons-Jones said. Within the NHTSA, the new system has reduced man hours by at least 50 percent for rulemaking and enforcement.

“This project has made the flow of information and the quality of information that's flowing much, much better,” said Zaremski. "It’s much more timely, and we’re all working from the same data."

The collaboration has delivered other, less-tangible advantages as well.  “Our technical teams work so well together,” she said. “We’re reaping the benefits of all those things we hear about with the government: collaboration, customer service, the effectiveness, the efficiency.”

The NHTSA and EPA will continue joint operations when they next tackle the medium- and heavy-duty vehicle greenhouse gas standards and reporting.  “The more that we’re able to work together and leverage each other's technology or expertise,” Zaremski said, "the better it'll be for all of us."

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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