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.

Next time we will finish our discussion of GHG reporting.