For the first time, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data from the country's largest emitters is being made easily accessible by a new tool on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website.
With an interactive map stating the number of facilities emitting large amounts of GHGs and providing the names, locations and metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by these facilities from nine industry groups, users can find out who is pumping large amounts of emissions into the atmosphere in their neighborhood.
“Thanks to strong collaboration and feedback from industry, states and other organizations, today we have a transparent, powerful data resource available to the public,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in a press release. “The GHG Reporting Program 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.”
Here's an example of what the map entails: I work remotely in Washington, D.C. metro area. Clicking on the closest dot of emitters to DC bumps the map in closer and closer until you can pick out the individual facilities in your area. The District holds five facilities considered large enough emitters for EPA to place on this map.
The largest emitter in the District is the Benning Generation Station at more than 219,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, followed by GSA Central Heating, Capitol Power Plant, George Washington University and the Pentagon.
NPR reports that EPA was "compelled by law" to provide this information to the public, which pollution-prevention advocacy groups state will give citizens the information they need to petition these facilities to reduce emission levels. But, NPR reports, that for many of the facilities whose main emission is carbon dioxide, often from burning coal, there may not be much they can do to curb it:
Carbon dioxide is not a byproduct of burning, like other pollutants. It's the main product. So you can't do much about it no matter how hard you try. You can't put on scrubbers or emissions controls the way you can to limit mercury, sulfur gases and other byproducts.
A coal plant converted to burn natural gas could cut its carbon dioxide emissions in half, but at great expense. And in the long run it might be possible to capture and bury the carbon dioxide, but that technology is expensive and not ready for prime time.
From EPA's GHG collection in 2010, the agency found that power plants were the largest stationary GHG emitters, followed by petroleum refineries. Of the GHGs emitted, carbon dioxide was the most prevalent (95 percent), then methane (4 percent) and nitrous oxide and flourinated gases (1 percent).
According to NPR, EPA's facilities map accounts for half of the GHGs emitted each year in the U.S. The other half come from vehicles, planes and other operations that are smaller and not included in the map or EPA's calculations.