The days of using a word processor, spreadsheets and piles of paper for your environmental, health and safety reporting are coming to an end. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has fully committed to requiring electronic reporting for new environmental regulations and many major annual compliance reports. This shift away from paper-based reporting has the potential to completely change the way you approach any EHS responsibilities.

Two major environmental management reports that are getting a lot of attention and are at the forefront of the switch to electronic reporting include the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) report and the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

EPA lately has proposed a new ruling that would require all TRI reporters to stop submitting paper reports and begin using only their online reporting tool, known as Toxic Release Inventory – Made Easy (AKA TRI-MEweb). This ruling is expected to pass, as approximately 95 percent of TRI reporters already are using the program consistently.

MATS:  A Glimpse Into the Future

MATS, which came into effect during spring of this year, is a slightly different story. EPA's final MATS ruling came built in with the condition that nearly all tests, reports, summaries, notifications and continual monitoring results “must be submitted (except in limited cases) to EPA's WebFIRE database by using the electronic reporting tool (ERT) and the Compliance and Emissions Data Reporting Interface (CEDRI) that is accessed through EPA's Central Data Exchange (CDX)” (Federal Register, Vol. 77, No. 32).

Basically, MATS will be one of the first air emissions reports that has come out of the gate requiring electronic reporting. If the MATS regulation is any indication, which it most likely is, then we can expect all future air emission and waste generation regulations also will require electronic reporting.

Finally, a new EPA proposal will make electronic reporting mandatory for all chemical information submitted under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). When this ruling comes into effect, as is expected, paper submissions will need to be replaced with the EPA's CDX program. Clearly, EPA is making big moves to digitize the biggest compliance reports and to pave the way for even further electronic reporting requirements in the near future.

Electronic reporting promises to be faster and easier for EPA auditors to process and verify. It also will help EPA create public databases faster, increase transparency and greatly reduce the agency's environmental footprint and paper usage. But what we all really want to know is what's in it for us, the actual reporters?

Some of the common concerns reporters have about mandatory electronic reporting, and what ERT systems have to offer, are outlined below.