A proposed federal greenhouse-gas registry could lay the groundwork for sweeping climate-change legislation, but stakeholders told officials Monday they're concerned about cost and implementation headaches.
The proposed national greenhouse-gas registry, announced by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson on March 10, would require all entities emitting 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases or more per year to report their emissions output. Agency officials estimate the registry would cover about 13,000 U.S. facilities and 85 percent to 90 percent of the country's annual emissions.
As currently drafted, the rule encompasses oil and chemical refineries, automobile and engine manufacturers, confined animal-feeding operations, power plants, cement plants, coal mines and others, and it requires them to track at least six heat-trapping gases, including methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.
Such a registry is vital to curbing emissions and thus climate change, said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
"This is very important because we can't create a program (to cut greenhouse gases) unless we know who's emitting what and how," Udall told Regina McCarthy at a hearing last week on her nomination to be EPA's assistant administrator.
Congress needs the data in order to establish a cap-and-trade system that would cap emissions at a specific level and then require companies to purchase shares in order to emit greenhouse gases. Environmentalists, who widely favor such a program, are heralding the registry as a result.
"Accurate and comprehensive emissions accounting is key to the successful start-up of a cap-and-trade program," Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said a non-profit environmental organization, in a statement. "A well-designed national greenhouse-gas registry will ensure comprehensive emissions reporting and put the U.S. on the right path toward an effective climate policy."
However, stakeholders disagree on what a well-designed registry looks like.
In general, the agency could require companies to plug information about their facilities into general equations to estimate emissions, or it could mandate actual measurements of the gases. The latter method is far more accurate, said John Bosch, a former EPA employee who worked extensively on air pollution regulation.
"The only way to determine the actual emissions is to do continuous fence-line monitoring," Bosch said at Monday's public hearing on the registry.
Bosch said he worked on a project that compared estimated emissions at a variety of facilities with actual, measured emissions. The results found "egregious" differences, he said.
"The actual emissions were 10 to 40 times the amount estimated," he said.
Even if a simpler method is used, many industry representatives are worried the registry will place additional burdens on companies that are already struggling to make ends meet during the current financial crisis. For members of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, a trade association for manufacturers, the cost to track and report emissions could be huge, said James McNew, vice president of technical and marketing services at OPEI.
"It will run in the millions of dollars for some manufacturers," he said.
The type of information the registry requires companies to supply has also raised concerns.
"The proposed rule would require submission of a great deal of competitive information," said Thomas Diamond of the Semiconductor Industry Association, a U.S. trade organization. "It is not clear to SIA why this information is necessary or how its confidentiality will be secured."
If businesses were able to access the information, it could enable them to unfairly undermine their competitors, Diamond told EPA officials.
Others are concerned a new national registry could create bureaucratic nightmares for entities already participating in state or regional efforts to curb and report emissions.
"States and state programs have been leaders in establishing mandatory and voluntary climate registries," said Denise Sheehan, regional director for the eastern United States at the Climate Registry, a non-profit organization that helps businesses and governments calculate and publish their carbon footprints. "The registry believes it is critical for EPA's registry to work in concert with state programs."
While a number of stakeholders are concerned the registry is too inclusive and complex, others think it leaves out some critical emission sources. This includes large fleets of vehicles, said Stephen Russell from the NAFA Fleet Management Association, a professional society for vehicle-fleet managers.
"You're requiring manufacturing plants to report their emissions, but they might have 2,000 vehicles that are emitting CO2 that you're not even looking at," Russell told EPA officials at the hearing. "We think you should look at that too."