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EPA air chief says GHG registry could spur emission cuts

The public release of data revealing top U.S. industrial sources of greenhouse gases could spur companies to voluntarily slash their emissions, according to U.S. EPA's top air official.

Air chief Gina McCarthy said EPA's new rule requiring large sources of greenhouse gases to report emissions could have an impact similar to that of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which since its inception in 1987 has been credited with spurring substantial reductions in toxic emissions.

When the index was first released, "companies were falling all over themselves to make pledges about reductions," said Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program.

Speaking at a conference of environmental journalists in Madison, Wis., last week, McCarthy said she hoped the greenhouse gas registry would lead to similar voluntary reductions.

"I'm hoping it will have the exact same effect as the Toxic Release Inventory and be actually even more successful," she said.

With the TRI program, "basically, every company reduced their chemical use in their waste generation because they didn't want to be on that list," McCarthy said. "Now, I believe, you will see the same effect with the reporting rule on greenhouse gases, because you'll now be able to see how much greenhouse gases are being emitted by different facilities in your community."

The greenhouse gas rule finalized last month will require about 10,000 facilities that emit about 85 percent of the nation's greenhouse gases to collect emissions data under a new reporting system, EPA said. Suppliers of fossil fuels and industrial greenhouse gases, motor vehicle and engine manufacturers, and other facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more of carbon dioxide equivalent will be subject to the new requirements (Greenwire, Sept. 22).

EPA will begin collecting data in 2010 and make the data public in early 2011, McCarthy said.

McCarthy also hopes that the registry will show companies how they can boost energy efficiency. "Every time you emit greenhouse gases in industry, you are throwing money out the door, because it means that you are being inefficient," she said.

Observers expect to see similarities between the TRI data and the greenhouse gas registry, but they note significant differences between air toxics and greenhouse gases.

"I think that the TRI, especially in its earlier stages of release, really did have a shock value because it showed just how pervasive and in some cases how close to home some of these releases were," said Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.

"I do think that becomes somewhat different in the case of carbon dioxide, because there's not that immediate potential threat."

Still, experts say that the top emitters will come under public pressure once the data become public.

"I think the principle is the same," Hopkins said. "No company is going to want to be on the top 100 emitters, and they are going to make every effort they can to reduce their emissions."

Environmental groups point out that the registry is not intended to serve as an isolated EPA effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions. It will also serve to inform future climate policy decisions.

"It's not a substitute for congressional or EPA regulatory action," Hopkins said, "but it is an important step."

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