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EPA hopes disclosure leads to greenhouse gas reductions

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EPA hopes disclosure leads to greenhouse gas reductions

In release of new data, agency sees 25-year-old program as model to follow

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About 25 years after the Environmental Protection Agency began collecting and sharing more information about toxic chemical releases in the hopes that awareness would spur reductions, the agency now hopes to do the same for greenhouse gases.

For the first time, the EPA on Wednesday unveiled data showing the amounts of greenhouse gases released in 2010 by the nation’s largest power plants, oil refineries and paper mills, among a handful of other industries.

The big-picture trends in the data aren’t surprising: Power plants are by far the largest sources of greenhouse gases, accounting for more than 72 percent of all reported releases.  In a distant second are oil refineries, followed by chemical plants.

The idea, said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, is that the data could function much like the agency’s Toxics Release Inventory.  The TRI had a simple premise: Tell the public what the plants near them are releasing, arming communities with information that could spur reforms.

“We have great hopes that the information itself will be a strong driver for greenhouse gas reductions,” McCarthy said in a conference call with journalists.

Sofia Plagakis, a policy analyst at the pro-transparency group OMB Watch, called Wednesday’s data release a significant step in addressing climate change.  “We hope this will allow the public to hold industry responsible,” she said.

The numbers released Wednesday are the result of an information-collection effort that began in October 2009 after Congress directed the EPA to require greenhouse gas reporting.  This first round of data includes information about only nine industry groups that produce the most greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA will soon start collecting information about more types of facilities.

Like the TRI, the numbers are self-reported.  Though the EPA had to talk with some companies and correct some numbers, McCarthy was confident in the information’s accuracy and pleased that “industry has participated in this in a positive way.”

Reprinted by permission of The Center for Public Integrity.

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