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environment rather than on internal bureaucratic functions. When analysts and agency staff members had to decide which problems were most serious, they discovered how meager their data were, how little most people really knew about environmental quality, and how little the technical staff knew about how the public valued different aspects of the environment. The embarrassing extent of these "data gaps," as practitioners call them, has inspired more rigorous attempts to measure environmental quality and trends.

Environmental Indicators

As government agencies have tried in the last few years to focus on measurable results, the demand has grown for more useful environmental data, particularly data that could help analysts, policy-makers, and the general public assess the quality of their environment. The ideal would be a relative small number of easy to measure conditions that would indicate the overall health of the environment. Although the ideal remains elusive, so many states and municipalities are compiling collections of information they find important that the approach is gaining sophistication and credibility—and possibly more credibility than it yet deserves. EPA has helped sponsor state efforts to establish environmental indicators; 25 states now have a formal environmental indicator project either in the planning stages or under way.5

Two states, Florida and Illinois, explicitly use their indicator data in policy and budget decisions. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's "Strategic Assessment of Florida's Environment"6 (SAFE) project is now more than four years old and was one of the first state indicator initiatives. Updated in 1994, the SAFE system now has 87 indicators grouped in categories related to the 13 environmental problem areas evaluated in the Florida comparative risk project. (Sample pages from the SAFE report are included in the Appendix.) Illinois's "Critical Trends Assessment Project" is a large ongoing effort to map and track changes in the state's environment. The trends data have been compiled in a seven-volume technical report and made more accessible in a handsome 90-page summary.7

Eleven states have published or are drafting "state-of-the-environment" reports, which present to the public collections of environmental data and analysis, usually focusing on the significance of trends revealed in various indicators. Notable state-of-the-environment reports have came out of Washington, Florida, Maine, Kentucky, and Vermont. These reports are designed to convey information that should help policy-makers and voters understand broad issues and begin to think critically about priorities.

The state-of-the-environment reports are generally products of state pollution-control agencies, though many also include natural resource and habitat information. The process of selecting the indicators to report is usually managed by agency staff and thus rests on the expertise and values of the scientists, engineers,

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