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EPA's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program Faces Fire from Both Sides

The EPA reporting initiative needed to inventory the nation's carbon footprint is angering advocates on both sides of the issue, for different reasons

By Elizabeth McGowan

Mar 16, 2011
Power plant at night

WASHINGTON—No wonder the Environmental Protection Agency is feeling more battered and friendless than usual. Nowadays, even some of its most stalwart allies are breathing down the agency's already-overheated neck.

One of Administrator Lisa Jackson's latest headaches has erupted over the rather innocuously named .

Not so shockingly, Tea Party movement-infused House Republicans are trying to slice away all the funding for the congressionally mandated initiative from the budget for the remaining six-plus months of the 2011 fiscal year.

But tweaking from the left side of the political spectrum is a bit more surprising. 

Four environmental organizations often lumped together as "Big Green" are wary that the EPA will let mega-size polluters from all sectors off the hook by kowtowing to their claims that detailed information showing how they calculate their emissions should be protected as confidential.

That, the green groups fear, could compromise the federal government's effort to inventory the nation's carbon footprint. Environmentalists argue that underlying data, not just a total emissions figure, are vital for designing effective policy to rein in carbon.

The , , and are pushing back at what they are calling EPA's potentially illegal proposal to grant companies three more years — until 2014 — to comply with a request they've known about for a long time.

They are urging the EPA to stick to its original demands and deadlines.

"I understand competitive concerns of companies," NRDC attorney Meleah Geertsma told Solve Climate News in an interview. "I'm hoping we can address some of those concerns. If not, we could end up losing a lot of important data for which we don't think there's any competitive harm."

What's the Big Hoo-Ha?

Congress approved the idea behind the in 2007 and the EPA launched it in October 2009. Under the scheme, facilities emitting at least 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases per year are required to collect "accurate and timely" data about carbon dioxide emissions.

The idea behind the program is to give federal authorities a blueprint of who is emitting what and how much of it.

Figures to be filed in an annual report to the EPA, which would be open to the public, are geared to guide carbon-control policy decisions. Initially, EPA authorities told companies that they would have to submit their first inventory reports — emissions for all of 2010 — by March 31 of this year.

But that deadline has been delayed until late summer because of technical glitches with an unwieldy electronic reporting system. Earlier this month, the EPA realized that the rollout was rocky and needed further testing.

"To ensure that the requirements are practical and understandable to the thousands of companies already registered to report under the program, the agency is in the process of finalizing a user-friendly online electronic reporting platform," agency spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn wrote in a .

Companies are still expected to file their bare-bones emissions reports by a new September 30, 2011 deadline, . (Update added, 3/18/2011)

Back in December, EPA started hinting that delaying release of the arithmetic behind the detailed data for three years will allow officials sufficient time to review claims from the and business groups that such trade secrets are confidential.

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