Energy / Regulation

EPA’s Climate Change System — Pointing the Finger Without All the Data?

At noon today, the EPA unveiled major greenhouse gas data in the “Release and Demonstration of the U.S. EPA Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program’s Data Publication Tool” Webinar. The webinar lasted for just about 30 minutes, and illustrated the comprehensive new system the EPA is utilizing to illustrate greenhouse gas emission sites to the general public.


In 2008 the EPA was tasked with collecting data relating to the major greenhouse gas pollutants, and also with the construction of a protocol to quantify this data. In April of 2009, the protocol for this project was completed, and data collection for this emissions analysis tool began. Today, data from 2010 national emissions were launched, showing national emissions statistics for Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Methane (CH4), PFC-14 (CF4), PFC-116 (C2F6), and HFC-23 (HCF3). When presiding over the meeting, Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, acknowledged the system as both a progressive and innovative new way to release emission data to stakeholders, including businesses, the impacted public, and investment agencies.


By utilizing Google earth, the technology places the major industrial sites on a map, and allows for the general public to view the emission rates of each specific factory measured.  Specific data is recorded in MT for the year of 2010. Truth be told, no tool such as this really exists for the public in such a user friendly manner, and it truly provides an interesting look at industry-dominated emissions from the prospective of EPA jurisdiction. Simply put, this handy tool will enable the general public to view comprehensive greenhouse gas (GHG) data from some of the largest facilities and suppliers throughout the nation in just the click or hover of the mouse.  Users may search based on any or all of the nine industry groups classified therein, including Power Plant, Refineries, Chemicals, Other Industrial, Landfills, Metals, Minerals, Pulp and Paper, and Government and Commercial. They may also refine their search based on the facility name itself, a certain geographic location, the number of emissions the facility releases per year (ranging anywhere from 0 – 23,000,000 MT CO2e), or specific types of GHG emissions released. It allows point source specific location emission statistics for simply industry, simply by zooming in and clicking, or it can provide probable emissions for s specific area. Also, for those users looking for raw data, a “download” button in the upper-right hand corner allows users to view the information on an Excel spreadsheet instead. The link for this system is shown below. [1]


Though this innovative system certainly boasts excellent forward-thinking by the EPA, Mrs. McCarthy also acknowledged the limitations of this model. This model only includes approximately 6200 emission sites, and of which, specifically involve only those sites which produce greater than 2500 metric tons or more (equivalent to 131 cars) of greenhouses gases per year. This would imply the only the major industrial emitters were released in this report which relate to EPA, and that Agriculture and Land use were excluded from this study. Exclusion of this information causes for massive data shifts (an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study exhibits how the U.S. food system contributes nearly 20 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions and how agricultural land use contributes 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions) [2], and causing for the major emission source sector is power plants in the United States, emitting approximately 72.3% of the total of these six noted key pollutants, with 10.2% of this total located solely in Texas. Though the EPA is not able to monitor the totals of other major emission sources, as they are outside the jurisdiction, it becomes questionable why EPA did not collaborate with USDA or other germane agencies to complete a total emission spectrum model, and provide a more accurate model for looking at true total emission data. In conjunction with this question, it becomes curious why all classified harmful fluorinated gases were not included in this model. As previously stated by the EPA:

Hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride are synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety of industrial processes. Fluorinated gases are sometimes used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances (i.e., CFCs, HCFCs, and halons). These gases are typically emitted in smaller quantities, but because they are potent greenhouse gases, they are sometimes referred to as High Global Warming Potential gases (“High GWP gases”). [3]
Yet, this begs the question as to why only Fluoroform, Tetrafluoromethane, and Hexafluoroethane were included in the model, specifically when the EPA mandates sulfur hexafluoride by name in classification of High Global Warming Potential gases. Yes, many of these gases are produced by anthropogenic emission which account for a very small overall percentage of the potent greenhouse gas emissions by the United States industries mandated by EPA, yet why some of the specifically noted chemicals (or any sulfur molecule) are not listed becomes questionable.


Overall, the tool provides a useful illustration of emission information in the United States viable for EPA analysis. The system is innovative, useful, and presented in both a user friendly and easily accessible model. That being said, the following limitations must be considered when looking at the data: 1) largest emitters may be absent, 2) data does not contain total emission data for the United States, and 3) the data presented does not contain all data potential large emission molecules. These considerations offer a skewed bias in the presentation of the actual largest greenhouse gas polluting industry areas. Mrs. McCarthy noted in the meeting that 12 new industry groups will be reporting in 2012, which can begin to fix this bias, but until then, this data will still remain questionable.

By Thomas Hale-Kupiec & Giovanna Longobardo


[2] IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Parry, Martin L., Canziani, Osvaldo F., Palutikof, Jean P., van der Linden, Paul J., and Hanson, Clair E. (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 1000 pp.

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