EPA Implements Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule

An EPA rule requiring large polluters to report greenhouse gases went into effect December 29, 2009.
EPA Rally in Seattle, photo by Chas Redmond

To coincide with an Environmental Protection Agency public hearing on global warming pollution as a threat to global health and welfare, activists held a May 2009 rally at Pier 66 in Seattle, next to the Bell Harbor International Conference Center. This “endangerment” finding was viewed as an important step in regulating pollution that contributes to climate change.

Photo by Chas Redmond.

Copenhagen was a disappointment for many, but there are signs of hope that the U.S. is taking actions to address global climate change. For example, starting January 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will, for the first time, require large polluters to collect greenhouse gas (GHG) data. The EPA claims the program will cover about 85 percent of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and apply to roughly 10,000 facilities.

Environmentalists applauded the new regulation.

"The public has both a need and a right to know about the country's biggest emitters," said Mark MacLeod, director of special projects at the Environmental Defense Fund. "The transparency provided today will inform smart policy that targets the biggest sources of heat-trapping emissions."

The EPA says the purpose of the new regulation is to collect accurate and timely emissions data to assist in the development of policies and programs to reduce emissions.

In December 2009, following a public comment period, the agency announced that greenhouse gases were a threat to public health. That conclusion, called an endangerment finding, was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 decision that GHGs fit within the Clean Air Act's definition of pollution and is the first step toward regulation.

Emitters of 25,000 metric tons or more per year of greenhouse gas will be required to submit annual reports to the EPA. This threshold is roughly equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 4,600 passenger vehicles.

The first reports for the largest emitting facilities, covering calendar year 2010, will be submitted to the EPA in 2011. Vehicle and engine manufacturers outside of the light-duty sector (passenger cars and light trucks) will begin phasing in greenhouse gas reporting with model year 2011.

The reporting requirements will include both downstream (such as furnace emissions, automobile emissions, or smokestack emissions) and upstream (such as the carbon content of natural gas extracted from a natural gas well) greenhouse gases.

The data will also allow businesses to track their own emissions, compare them to similar facilities, and provide assistance in identifying cost effective ways to reduce emissions in the future.

President Obama touted the new reporting rule at a U.N. climate change summit in New York in September 2009.

"I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history," he said, citing the reporting rule as one of the administration's achievements on that front.

The reporting does not include smaller quantity generators or light-duty vehicles, prompting criticism that the requirements do not go far enough. Meanwhile, other critics also say that including both upstream and downstream reporting of emissions will be costly and may lead to double counting. However, the EPA estimates that only 13,000 entities will be required to report their greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the EPA wants to collect broad data to support a range of policy options, including both upstream and downstream regulatory measures.

Also, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently issued a final rule establishing the average fuel economy standards for model year 2011 passenger cars and light trucks. The new standards will raise the industry-wide combined average to 27.3 miles per gallon, which will reportedly save an estimated 887 million gallons of fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 8.3 million metric tons.

“This is a major step forward in our effort to address the greenhouse gases polluting our skies,” says EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “For the first time, we begin collecting data from the largest facilities in this country, ones that account for approximately 85 percent of the total U.S. emissions. The American public, and industry itself, will finally gain critically important knowledge and with this information we can determine how best to reduce those emissions.”

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