Two fundamental EPA climate programs survive EPA cuts, but budget still required to track and mitigate U.S. emissions

The federal administration’s proposed budget cuts to the EPA are devastating. Nearly all climate-related programs are proposed to be cut or greatly reduced, including the popular ENERGY STAR program.

Yet two critical climate EPA programs have maintained partial funding in the current proposal – the Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GHGI) and Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP).  These programs provide critical reports each year outlining U.S. man-made greenhouse emissions across the country. These informative reports are vital to the energy sector and our regional climate initiatives and must be preserved by this and future federal administrations.

If we are not measuring and tracking our annual output of greenhouse gases, our ability to verifiably reduce our emissions becomes severely impaired. Our country – along with public and industry stakeholders across the work –needs access to this U.S. data each year in order to understand patterns and trends in greenhouse gas emissions.  Transparent reporting of GHG data can help hold emitters publicly accountable and facilitate emission reductions.

Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report

The GHGI program was initiated more than 20 years ago and provides detailed, yet incomplete, accounting of greenhouse gas emissions for dozens of U.S. source categories caused by human activities. The report provides an assessment of the country’s GHG emissions history and can guide future reduction targets. The GHGI is also a source of valuable scientific data and can guide investment in emissions research and mitigation. The gases covered by the inventory include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and nitrogen trifluoride.

The GHGI has been highly detailed and science-based, and the EPA historically has been committed to making continuous improvements to this report. Great progress has been made in the last few years in regards to updating the estimate of the oil and gas industry’s methane emissions, but additional work is needed to increase its accuracy.

The administration should provide the GHGI with an adequate budget to implement two to three major science-based updates each year, such as fully accounting for oil and gas super-emitters and including estimates of abandoned wells. The EPA should also be free to make updates to the report free of political interference whenever needed.

Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program

The GHGRP provides emission data from the largest industrial facilities in the country. Facilities measured under this program emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, supply consumers with fossil fuels, or inject carbon dioxide.  The GHGRP is a mandatory reporting program for U.S. facilities emitting GHGs ≥ 25,000 metric tons CO2e. Facilities have annually reported emissions and associated data since 2010.  In 2015, approximately 8,000 facilities reported 3 billion metric tons CO2e.

The GHGRP data derived from these reports is highly valuable for research into the quantification and mitigation of emissions.  The EPA also started recently integrating GHGRP data into the GHGI, which increases the accuracy of the inventory relying on the most recently available data.

GHGRP reports provide the public with verifiable and standardized data from the largest polluters. The proposed budget mentions potential revisions related to reporting of sensitive business information.  While improvements to the efficiency of the reporting program are welcome, EPA should not weaken the transparency of the program by classifying more data elements as confidential.

Insufficient Budgets Lead to Insufficient Emission Data

The proposed administration budget slashes all of the research funding and most of the implementation funds for the GHGRP. Many science-based updates need to be made to the report, including the use of more direct measurements. The administration should provide the GHGRP with an adequate budget to continuously research and implement updates to improve the accuracy of reported data.

In order for our cities, states and industrial energy facilities to measure and reduce their greenhouse emissions, they must have access to these reports. The value and accuracy of these reports will decrease significantly if they are not funded appropriately. Without sufficient budgets, the EPA will also lose its ability to continuously improve the data quality and reporting efficiency of the reports.  Trump might have pulled the U.S. federal government out of the Paris agreement last week, but 187 U.S. city mayors have already pledged to adopt and commit to the goals outlined in the agreement.

Appropriate budgets are required for these reports, though objectivity and access are paramount, as well. Updates to these reports should be driven by science – not business interests.  And the EPA should assure the public that this data remains publically available.

Without annual U.S. greenhouse gas emission data derived from these reports, polluters and stakeholders will not have the information required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Essentially, we will all be flying blind, and now is not the time to lack current climate data.

Image source: Public Domain Pictures

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