Greenhouse Gas Registry Finalized

by Brian Turnbaugh*, 9/22/2009

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized its mandatory greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting rule. This new rule will require thousands of facilities to monitor and report their annual emissions of several major GHG. The registry should provide much of the detailed, facility-level information needed to develop policies to reduce emissions. Several major changes were made to the proposed rule, mostly in favor of industry. The changes appear to have reduced the amount of facilities covered and the amount of greenhouse gases tracked.

When EPA first proposed the mandatory registry, it estimated that "85-90% of total national U.S. GHG emissions, from approximately 13,000 facilities, would be covered by the proposed rule." Now, following the changes that appear in the final rule, the agency claims "an estimated 85 percent of the total U.S. GHG emissions, from approximately 10,000 facilities, are covered by this final rule."

Overall the changes do not seem to significantly weaken the registry. Moreover, the EPA has not made a final decision on whether or how to include several major sources of GHG emissions. Pending additional analyses and evaluation of data collection methods, EPA has held off on including sources such as industrial wastewater treatment, industrial landfills, suppliers of coal, and electronics manufacturing, among other sources.

There is no indication when these sources will be reconsidered in the future, or whether any additional sources will be considered or by what process they might be considered. These issues should be addressed if the registry is to be a robust tool that can adapt and expand with changes in industries and advances in technology and the scientific understanding of GHG emissions.

The final rule requires facilities to begin collecting data on January 1, 2010. The first emissions report is due on March 31, 2011, for emissions during 2010.

Industry Concessions

The proposed rule had a "once in – always in" feature that meant that a reporting facility would have to continue reporting to EPA even if its emissions fell below the 25,000 ton-per-year threshold. The final rule however, allows facilities to exit the program after five consecutive years below the 25,000 ton threshold or after three consecutive years below a new 15,000 ton threshold. A facility can also cease reporting if it shuts down the GHG-emitting portions of its operations. This compromise should still provide enough consistent data to allow thorough analyses of emissions trends while letting those who have made sufficient improvements stop reporting.

EPA has also made it easier for facilities to track their emissions – by not actually requiring them to track their emissions, at least for the first three months of the program (January – March 2010). A facility can estimate its emissions using "best available monitoring methods." A facility can ask for an extension that could last through 2010. EPA figured that because it was overdue finalizing the rule (based on a deadline ordered by Congress), it owed industries a few extra months to prepare – a generous accommodation and hopefully the last of the delays resulting from the Bush administration's lassitude.

EPA also reduced the monitoring requirements for manure management systems at the nation's biggest factory farms, a major source of methane and nitrous oxide. EPA estimates only 107 livestock facilities will be covered by the final rule.

Other Changes

In another major change, EPA will not collect data on automobiles and light-duty trucks in this registry. Instead, the recently proposed vehicle emissions rule will serve to collect these emissions data along with fuel economy data.

The EPA added some specifications to ensure that monitoring equipment is working right. The EPA's inspector general recently faulted the agency for failing to properly oversee the machinery used to monitor air emissions, throwing into doubt the accuracy of some of the data collected. EPA also added a provision to require submittal of revised annual GHG reports if needed to correct errors.

Many of our concerns about the registry relate to how the rule will be implemented and what data will be available to the public. The final rule provides some insight into how the registry will be run, but many details remain to be worked out. This registry is required if we are going to deal with climate change, and EPA has made great progress tackling this enormous task.

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