US agency launches database of greenhouse gas emissions from large facilities, opening them up to public scrutiny

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has for the first time released comprehensive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data on large facilities and made them available online. Now, citizens can view and sort this data from over 6700 facilities to identify nearby sources of GHGs, hold businesses accountable for their emissions and provide information to state and local governments. 

US pollution_250

US citizens will now be able to find out which plants in their neighbourhood are the most polluting

The 2010 database, launched on 11 January, reveals that power plants were by far the largest stationary sources of emissions, responsible for more than 72%, or 2324 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). 

The data indicate that petroleum refineries were the second biggest offender with emissions of 183MtCO2e (5.7%), followed by the chemical industry at 175MtCO2e (5.4%). 

But the American Chemistry Council (ACC) says the new EPA data misrepresents the chemical industry’s total GHG emissions because the agency aggregates several different chemical production categories that are generally regulated separately. 

’The database makes it look like the chemical industry is the third largest source,’ says Lorraine Gershman, the ACC’s director of regulatory affairs. ’But if you started ranking GHG emissions by the [chemical production] process, we would fall out lower than that.’ 

Although Gershman tells Chemistry World  that the EPA’s data are ’not an accurate representation of the total chemical industry emissions,’ she acknowledges that the sector is a large one that not only works with GHGs, but actually produces some for industrial use. Therefore, she says, it is ’not surprising’ that the chemical industry ranks at the high end of the GHG emitters list. 

The power of the new EPA database lies in its ability to reduce GHG emissions by taking the issue from the conceptual national level down to what’s in one’s backyard, according to observers and environmental groups. ’People are more interested in what’s in their backyards than in something more abstract,’ says David Doniger, policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air programme. ’I expect people to be very interested to learn the specific industrial facilities that are the large carbon polluters. When you are armed with this right to know information, you can demand what company executives or public officials are going to do about it.’ 

ACC’s Gershman agrees. ’There is a public pressure and peer pressure that comes along with this,’ she says. ’A lot of facilities will want to continue to lower their reportable GHG emissions.’ 

Rebecca Trager