The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a new interactive website Wednesday that allows users to track the total annual greenhouse gas emissions of power plants, oil refineries and other big industrial facilities that account for 80% of the country’s output of the gases that are the primary contributors to global climate change.
The EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Data tool is modeled on its 20-year-old toxins release inventory map that invites people to plug in their ZIP Codes to see what kinds of federally designated toxic substances are in their communities and who the polluters are. The greenhouse gas tool is based on 2010 data collected from more than 6,700 facilities across nine major industries, although power plants account for the overwhelming amount of the pollution. Because the tool focuses only on the largest emitters, it does not account for the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions.
Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said the database was not a regulatory device. Rather, “it would be useful use to inform decision-making” among companies, nonprofits and communities working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The database lets users find facilities by industry, state and community, and to rank them by their greenhouse gas emission levels. Utilities could track their own emissions across plants and those of their competitors, too. Environmentalists could focus on the biggest emitters. Individuals could find the level of greenhouse gas emissions from the power plants, refineries and cement plants in their communities.
“Carbon pollution is pretty abstract for most people, and they don’t where it comes from and who’s responsible,” said David Doniger, policy director for the Climate and Clean Air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “These kinds of right-to-know tools are very popular and can make a difference. Once people know the level of greenhouse gases in their backyards, they will demand to know what company officials and elected officials will do about it.”
The database shows, for instance, that carbon dioxide emissions accounted for 95% of greenhouse gas emissions, followed by methane at 4% and nitrous oxide and other gases at 1%. One hundred facilities reported greenhouse gas emissions in the upper range of 7 million metric tons to 23 million metric tons, 96 of them power plants.
The top three emitters of greenhouse gases, in Georgia and Alabama, are owned by Atlanta-based Southern Co., one of the nation’s biggest power generators and an ardent opponent of EPA efforts to curtail air pollution, including carbon dioxide. The other plants in the top 10 are scattered through the Midwest and South and are owned by Dallas-based Energy Future Holdings Corp. (TXU), Allentown, PA’s PPL Corp. (PPL) and Detroit’s DTE Energy Co. (DTE).
Stephanie Kirijan, a Southern Co. spokeswoman, said the company “complies with all environmental regulations and supports transparency in emissions reporting. The emissions reported for plants Scherer, Bowen and Miller are indicative of those being among the nation’s largest generators of electricity.” The plants named are the three largest emitters.