The EPA Shines a Light on Transparency: Makes Greenhouse Gas Data Publically Available for the First Time

On Jan. 11, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released greenhouse gas (GHG) data to the public for the first time. Through an online tool, the public will be able to access critical air pollution data. With this new data, the public can hold industry accountable to ensure that emitters take responsibility for the way they are contributing to climate change.

The online tool presents 2010 GHG data from 6,700 large facilities around the country in nine industry groups, including suppliers of certain fossil fuels and industrial gases. The public will be able to use the data to analyze sources of GHG pollution in their areas, compare facility and industry performance, and eventually track trends. Enterprises can use the data to compare their performance against other companies in their sector, to set a baseline for their own reductions in carbon pollution, and to increase efficiency and save money. State and local officials can also use the data to compare the effectiveness of their policies and practices with those operating in other parts of the country. The 2010 GHG data shows that Texas has the highest total reported emissions in the country, and Indiana the second highest. Not surprisingly, power plants were the largest stationary sources for direct emissions in the country by far, followed by petroleum refineries.

The site offers various options for searching and viewing the new data. For instance, users can search for data by facility, location, industrial sector (e.g., power sector, chemical industry), and the type of gas emitted (e.g., carbon dioxide). Data can be viewed on maps of the nation, specific states or even counties. Highlighted blue circles denote the number of facilities reporting in each location. Users can also view data on lists (i.e., data tables), bar and pie charts, and tree maps. Viewing the data on the tables (rather than on the maps or charts) allows users to categorize the data according to the facilities or industries that produce the most pollution. The tool allows users to download data in Excel files, which can be used to conduct further analysis and includes data on parent companies.

One short-coming of the data, which EPA cannot control, is that it reports emissions from a limited set of facilities - those that are required to report to EPA. There is no data from transportation or agricultural facilities. On the plus side, an additional 12 source categories will begin reporting emissions data this year.

Public reporting of pollution is a powerful tool in the hands of citizens - it fosters public awareness and/or confirmation of concerns about local environmental problems. It gives citizen activists the evidence they need to push for significant reductions in emissions in their communities. After the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act created the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a national database of toxic emissions reported by industrial sources was established in 1986, the private sector has reduced the amount of toxins it releases by more than half. We hope this online tool will achieve similar results in reducing emissions.

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