And so it begins.

On Jan. 1, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will, for the first time, require large emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) to begin collecting data under a new reporting system. According to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, this new program will cover approximately 85% of the nation’s GHG emissions and apply to roughly 10,000 facilities.

Clearly, reporting is the first step in a process whereby EPA anticipates regulating and reducing GHG from industry. Establishing “baseline” CO2 emissions for each facility and implementing a system for monitoring and tracking them going forward are obvious components of any forthcoming emission-reduction plan.

Legal Authority
Although many people, myself included, strenuously object to classifying carbon dioxide as a “pollutant” (ambient levels are far too low to produce direct human health consequences, it is a normal product of human respiration and its presence in the atmosphere is vital to photosynthesis and the food chain), EPA has nevertheless determined it has the authority to collect emission data on CO2 and other GHG under the Clean Air Act.

Not surprisingly, some observers challenge EPA’s authority to regulate CO2 without specific action by Congress, and they do not concur with EPA’s “Endangerment Finding” published in April 2009. Some groups are also raising concerns that plant expansions scheduled for late 2010 or beyond may get scuttled because reported 2010 emissions would not fully reflect the plant’s (new) baseline and could thus result in future penalties. At press time, Senators Boxer and Kerry just introduced a cap-and-trade bill that mirrors the House bill passed in June. At press time, no legal challenges or legislative battles have been played out.

Holding Steady
Although no federal GHG regulations currently exist, EPA reports that nationwide CO2 emissions have risen very little in the 2000s. As noted in the table, CO2 has increased only about 2% over the first eight years of the decade and has gone down significantly in the metallurgical-industry segments shown. Evidence suggests that the U.S. production of these metals has also decreased, but the CO2 reductions are about two to three times greater than the declines in material output, indicating that these sectors have achieved significant energy-efficiency improvements.

To help facilities determine whether the new reporting rules apply to their operations, EPA developed a simple flowchart, which is reproduced to the left.

The chart cites three tables that identify manufacturing processes and equipment that typically emit GHG. The source categories listed in Table 1 include aluminum, cement and titanium-dioxide production. Table 2 categories include ferroalloy, glass, iron and steel, lead, and zinc production. The combustion units cited in Table 3 include boilers, process heaters, gas turbines and “other stationary fuel-combustion equipment.”

EPA has also set up four “tiers” by which companies can compute CO2 emissions. These include company records of fuel usage, direct measurements of fuel consumption and continuous emission-monitoring systems (CEMS) for CO2. Not all tiers are applicable to all facilities at all times, so the rule should be reviewed for applicable details.

Facilities must not only submit their 2010 GHG report before March 31, 2011, but they also will be required to retain supporting records for at least three years. Records to be retained include lists of GHG-emitting unit operations, raw data used to compute GHG emissions, a data monitoring plan and maintenance records for monitoring instruments.

The EPA website is still being populated with information as the commencement of required reporting grows nearer. To remain current, readers are encouraged to check it periodically