Introducing the EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Database

On Wednesday, the EPA unveiled its new Greenhouse Gas Emissions Database, a searchable database that tracks the emissions of larger GHG emitting facilities throughout the country.[1]  The database includes information on 6,700 of the heaviest polluters, accounting for 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and is based on data from 2010. [2]  It covers emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, tetrafluoromethane (PFC-14), hexafluoroethane (PFC-116), and fluoroform (HFC-23), gases that are believed to be major contributors to global climate change.[3]  Power plants, electric utilities, oil refineries, major manufacturers, and heavy industries were subject to the reporting requirements since 2011, and heavy-duty vehicle and engine producers will begin reporting this year. [4]  Also, under 2010 guidelines from the Securities and Exchange Commission, all public companies must report their contributions to global climate change.[5]  The agricultural and transportation sectors, however, are so far exempt.[6]

The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Database has many promising applications in the fight against global climate change.  The facilities subject to the reporting requirements are not yet required to make any steps toward reduction; the Database is currently for informational purposes only.  However, the establishment of the Database represents a major step toward public accountability for major industrial polluters. [7]  It allows citizens, the media, and lawmakers to identify the various sources of greenhouse gases in and around their communities and track their progress, or failure, at emissions reductions.  It is hoped that this added publicity will encourage, or even shame, polluting facilities into lowering their greenhouse gas emissions on their own, in the absence of mandatory reductions from the EPA. [8]  Such hopes are not entirely baseless.  A similar program, called the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), was created by Congress in the mid-1980s.[9]  Under the TRI, industrial polluters were required to report, but not reduce, their chemical emissions.[10]  After the first year of reporting, however, the increased public and media attention to industrial polluters led to a drastic reduction in emissions of nearly 550 million pounds.[11]  In an effort to gain the public’s favor, many of the worst polluting industries promised to voluntarily reduce their emissions.[12]  In two years following the creation of the TRI, toxic releases decreased by 19 percent.[13]  The inventory not only made companies aware of their pollution levels, it made them accountable to the general public, who for the first time had concrete evidence of the magnitude of the industrial pollution problem.

The Database may also facilitate legal action against companies who refuse to reduce their environmental impact.  Users can search the new Database by zip code and county, making it easier to target neighborhood polluters.  In 2005, a group of states used EPA data to determine the five biggest polluters in their boundaries and sued them, successfully, to curb their carbon emissions.[14]  The new Database makes future research easier, as consolidates all the data from individual polluters and ranks the top polluters in a particular search area.  Only time will tell what lasting effects, if any, the EPA’s new Greenhouse Gas Emissions Database will have, and whether these effects will be the result of public shaming or litigation.  For the record, GW is ranked among the top polluters in the District, having released 29,835 pounds of GHG in 2010.[15]

– By Stacey Rohrs, Notes Editor


[1] 2010 Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Large Facilities, EPA (“EPA Database”), http://ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do (last visited Jan. 14, 2012).

[2] Kate Sheppard & Samantha Oltman, America’s Top 10 Polluters, Mother Jones, Jan. 2012, available at http://motherjones.com/slideshows/2012/01/worst-emissions-polluters/scherer-plant-juliette-georgia

[3] See EPA Database, supra note 1

[4] See Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases, Docket No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2008-0508, 74 FR 56260 (October 30, 2009); Kate Sheppard, Lose 300 Million Tons of CO2 in Just 3 Weeks, Mother Jones, Apr. 2010, available at http://motherjones.com/environment/2010/04/climate-desk-carbon-discolure-project

[5] See Commission Guidance Regarding Disclosure Related to Climate Change, SEC, 17 CFR Parts 211, 231, and 241, Release Nos. 33-9106; 34-61469; FR-82 (February 8, 2010)

[6] Andrew Freedman, Exploring the New EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Database, Climate Central, Jan. 13th, 2012, available at  http://www.climatecentral.org/blogs/exploring-the-new-epa-greenhouse-gas-emissions-database/

[7] See Sheppard & Oltman, supra note 2; Sheppard, supra note 4

[8] See Sheppard, supra note 4.

[9] See Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] See EPA Database, supra note 1

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