Over the last decade, a revolution in remote sensing and real-time monitoring—with technologies that are smaller, more accurate, cheaper and more mobile—has combined with advances in data analysis to create an opportunity to transform environmental protection. EPIC-China plans to work with regulators to apply these advances to improve environmental quality in China.

Globally, EPIC has a track record of using monitoring and data analysis to reduce environmental violations. In one project, EPIC Director Michael Greenstone and his colleagues in India are testing the effectiveness of real-time emissions monitoring in place of manual collections. By allowing regulators to pinpoint where pollution is occurring and if policies are working, the automated system is improving detection of violations. In a similar project, Greenstone and his colleagues measured the impact water meters installed in homes in a city in California had on reducing violations of water use laws and water use overall. The researchers compared homes where fines were issued based on water meter data to homes where fines were issued based on in-person inspections. Again, more accurate detection from the water meters deterred violators—with 17 percent fewer violations—and reduced water use by about 3 percent.

In some recent work, Greenstone, Guojun He, and their coauthors find that the automation of air pollution monitoring and reporting by the central government greatly improves the reliability of pollution concentration readings in China. The improvement is evidenced by the level, variance, seasonality of reported PM10 concentrations, as well as the correlation between reported PM10 and satellite data. This suggests that automatic monitoring greatly reduces the degree of data manipulation.