POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 12, 2012
WASHINGTON » The Environmental Protection Agency for the first time is making available detailed information on sources of greenhouse gas emissions, from the Mount Sinai Hospital heating plant in Manhattan to the nation's largest coal-burning power plant in Georgia.
The agency unveiled a searchable computerized map on Wednesday that allows users to identify the nation's major stationary sources of carbon dioxide and other climate-changing gases, including power plants, refineries, chemical factories and paper mills. The agency said the data, which was drawn from 6,157 sources and is current through 2010, covered nearly 80 percent of the country's greenhouse gases from large industrial sources.
Major emitters are required under a 2008 law signed by President George W. Bush to provide detailed annual reports of their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming.
Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA's office of air and radiation, said she hoped that making the information widely available would eventually lead to pressure for emissions cuts.
"This tool is designed to be user-friendly, so that businesses, industry and nonprofits can get a better understanding of where greenhouse gases are being generated and to build enthusiasm for greenhouse gas reductions," she said in a conference call unveiling the new registry.
The administration is preparing regulations to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants, but McCarthy would not say when they would be released. Efforts by the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress to pass legislation reducing greenhouse gas emissions failed in the Senate in 2010, and industries represented by the data released on Wednesday have spent heavily to oppose such laws.
The new registry does not cover direct emissions from agriculture, forestry or transportation, which are not required to report them in detail.
The data show that power plants are responsible for 72.3 percent of reported emissions and that the three largest single sources — two generating stations in Georgia and one in Alabama — are owned by the Southern Co., based in Atlanta.
The EPA does not directly provide the corporate ownership of all of the sources, although some is available on spreadsheets accompanying the map.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, however, has compiled emissions by utility, using the EPA figures.
The report also shows that Texas has by far the highest total emissions from power plants and refineries, with 294 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent spewed into the atmosphere. The next highest total comes from Pennsylvania, with 129 million metric tons.
Although sleekly presented, the EPA's registry has its limitations. It is neatly organized by state and emissions source, but that does not reflect the nature of the electric system, which is responsible for the bulk of the emissions in the inventory but is not divided by state lines. The ranking makes the District of Columbia look like a fairly small emitter and Pennsylvania like a large one. But some of the coal burned in Pennsylvania flows through the regional power grid to feed Washington and other areas.
And the emissions inventory does not capture information about the efficiency of the source. New York University, for example, may rank as a big emitter in New York, but a year ago it opened a co-generation facility that makes electricity and uses the waste heat to heat and cool buildings, thus doing far more work per pound of carbon dioxide emitted than most other sources.
Still, David Doniger, the policy director for climate and clean air at the Natural Resources Defense Council, described the new database as a "very powerful small-d democratic tool."
"It means that every high school student or local reporter can see who the biggest carbon polluters are in his or her own backyard," he said. "Carbon pollution and climate change are very abstract when you're dealing with national or international data. This brings it home."