A Greenhouse Gas Registry - Critical Step on Climate Change

Friday, March 27, 2009

THE LACK of concrete data on which facilities were emitting greenhouse gases and how much they were spewing into the atmosphere led to a major flaw in the European Union's cap-and-trade system: the over-allocation of pollution permits to industry. This mistake led to the collapse of the carbon market. Thanks to action taken by the Environmental Protection Agency this month, the United States will not make the same mistake.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson issued a proposal to establish a greenhouse gas registry. This is the first step in a process that will lead to the development, discussion and implementation of a program that will tabulate the amount of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases from about 13,000 large industrial facilities that emit more than 25,000 metric tons or more a year each. The EPA estimates this would cover 85 to 90 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The plan, required by Congress but ignored by President George W. Bush, must be in place by June 26.

Collecting this data would also be the first step in devising a cap-and-trade system that President Obama wants to use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. He wants to auction 100 percent of the pollution permits to generate $650 billion over the next 10 years. But there's one small wrinkle in this. The first report from the EPA would be submitted in 2011 for emissions in 2010. Mr. Obama's budget plan submitted to Congress anticipates the cap-and-trade system being in place by 2012. In short, there's a question as to whether there will be enough data on which to base the carbon caps.

The administration should consider ramping up voluntary greenhouse gas inventory plans already underway such as the Climate Leaders program at the EPA and the Energy Department's Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Program. This would bolster the effort to get as much solid information as possible. And it would help to ensure that the United States avoided making Europe's mistakes.

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