(CNSNews.com) - Environmental activists are applauding the EPA for releasing greenhouse gas emissions data for large polluters through a new, consumer-friendly Web platform.
The online reporting tool, launched on Wednesday, "will help Americans work together to develop innovative ways to reduce climate pollution," said the Environmental Defense Fund.
The data likely will be used to pressure companies that don't reduce their emissions, which can be a costly proposition. The EPA notes that in 2010, power plants were the largest stationary sources of direct emissions, followed by oil refineries.
"The public availability of this data means that Americans now, for the first time, have access to accurate information about the heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted by large industrial sources in their communities," said the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
“Americans have a right to know about the pollution in their air,” said Environmental Defense Fund Attorney Peter Zalzal. “This greenhouse gas emissions data promotes transparency and provides a strong foundation for Americans to work together in deploying smart climate policies.”
According to EDF, the new pollution information will "strengthen corporate governance and sustainability" by allowing people to compare pollution levels from one facility to another. "It will likewise provide investors with transparent information, helping to drive investment decisions informed by the companies and facilities that are leading the way in reducing climate pollution and those that are lagging behind."
The EPA says that greenhouse gases (GHGs) do not impair human health as other pollutants do. But it adds that GHGs do "contribute to global warming, causing the Earth's climate to change which in turn endangers human health and welfare. For example," the EPA adds, "a warmer climate will increase the risk of heat-related illnesses and death, and will worsen conditions for air pollution."
EPA’s online tool allows users to view and sort GHG data for calendar year 2010 from over 6,700 facilities in a variety of ways: by facility, by location, by industrial sector, and by the type of GHG emitted. This information can be used by communities to identify nearby sources of GHGs, help businesses compare and track emissions, and provide information to state and local governments, EPA says.
The pollution data come straight from large facilities such as power plants, refineries, landfills, and chemical companies. The GHG Reporting Program also covers suppliers of products that would emit GHGs if released or combusted.
The data provides a "critical tool for businesses and other innovators to find cost- and fuel-saving efficiencies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and foster technologies to protect public health and the environment,” said Gina McCarthy, the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.
In 2010, carbon dioxide accounted for the largest share of direct GHG emissions -- 95 percent, followed by methane (4 percent) and nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases accounting for the remaining 1 percent.
The data also show that 100 facilities each reported emissions exceeding 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, including 96 power plants, two iron and steel mills and two refineries.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) notes that churches, cattle, and other small sources are not covered by the reporting requirements; and it says that visitors to the EPA's online reporting site can share information via Facebook and Twitter.
The EPA says the data release stems from program called for under the under the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Act signed into law by President George W. Bush in December 2007 (H.R. 2764; Public Law 110–161).
In 2010, EPA received GHG emissions information from 9 industry groups: power plants, landfills, metals manufacturing, mineral production, petroleum refineries, pulp and paper manufacturing, chemicals manufacturing, government and commerical facilities, and "other industrial facilities."
It says additional industry groups will report their 2011 pollution data in 2012, including electronics manufacturing, fluorinated gas production, magnesium production, petroleum and natural gas systems, those who use and manufacture electric transmission and distribution equipment, underground coal mines, industrial wastewater treatment, geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide, industrial waste landfills, underground injection of carbon dioxide, and imports and exports of equipment that is pre-charged with fluorinated greenhouse gases.