No one likes being told what to do, especially when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Often, businesses are concerned about how emissions regulations will affect everyday practices and the bottom line. But as one report shows, when left to their own devices, companies increasingly are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reporting their results.
Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, trap the atmosphere's heat by absorbing infrared radiation from the sun. With global climate change an increasing concern, reducing greenhouse gas emissions has become a necessity.
Since 1994, the Energy Information Administration (EIA), an independent statistical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, D.C., has allowed individuals, associations and companies that emit or reduce greenhouse gases to voluntarily document their activities.
EIA's Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Program was established by the Energy Policy Act of 1992 to create a mechanism for reporting such reductions. Participating companies receive annual public recognition for their projects, while helping others to identify new ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The latest report, released earlier this year, documents voluntary reductions from the 1999 reporting year. A total of 201 U.S. companies and organizations reported that they had undertaken 1,715 projects, resulting in emission reductions and carbon sequestration equivalent to 226 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
The report shows a steady increase of participating companies and projects. Since 1994, the first year in which data was collected, the annual number of projects reported has increased by 166 percent. The quantity of emissions reductions has more than tripled. Although the number of companies reporting in 1999 was slightly lower than the previous year — 201 as opposed to 207 in 1998 — the 1998 data was revised to include reports that were filed late, and a 1999 revision also is expected to increase figures.
Additionally, the reporting entities are becoming more diverse.
“Initially, when the program started the majority of our reporters were electric utilities,” says Paul McArdle, program manager for the Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Program. “We've become much more diverse. Electric utilities now are [approximately] 50 percent of our reporters. It's much more broad-based.”
Reflected in this diversification is the growing number of reports from waste management entities. In 1999, 228 projects reduced methane emissions, including 180 landfill gas (LFG) recovery projects. This represents a 40 percent increase in reported methane reduction projects over 1998 levels and a 430 percent increase over 1994 levels, the first year LFG reductions were noted. In 1994, only 123,819 metric tons of methane were reduced; by 1999, that figure had grown to approximately 1.7 million metric tons.
In 1999, one of the most productive LFG recovery efforts was the Mountaingate project in Los Angeles, reported by Ecogas Corp., Austin, Texas. A remarkable 4 million cubic feet of gas were recovered from a 375-acre landfill containing 21 million tons of solid waste.
As was the case in 1998, the largest methane reduction claimed by a single reporter came from the Integrated Waste Services Association (IWSA), Washington, D.C. Representing 65 waste-to-energy plants operated by its members, IWSA reported reductions of 194,500 metric tons of methane in 1999.
Recycling projects also were reported because they reduce emissions by saving energy. In 1999, 41 projects involved the reuse of fly ash in concrete, and 35 projects were related to materials recycling.
Landfills, waste-to-energy facilities and other companies can benefit in several ways from participating in the program, McArdle says. “A company [obtains] public relations value for doing good things for the environment,” he says. “[Companies] also [acquire] the educational benefit of reporting their emissions and reductions. It's not a straightforward process, and more and more companies are interested in getting a handle on their emissions. When [companies become] involved in the program, they get into the minutiae, such as the emission factors and efficiency of a project.”
Additionally, it may benefit companies to establish a track record of reducing emissions. In Oct. 1997, the Clinton administration announced that it favored offering credits for early reductions as a way to limit future emissions. A credit would be a “carbon allowance” against a future cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Although various bills on the issue have been introduced in Congress, no legislation has yet been enacted.
However, the Bush administration has supported voluntary efforts by the private sector to benefit the environment, and the administration may look to the Voluntary Reporting Program database for evidence that a credit system might work. “That's another benefit of becoming part of the public use database,” McArdle says. “You would have a record of actions you've taken on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, if Congress wanted to look at what you've done or there was a credit system for early action on reducing emissions.”
Reports submitted to EIA are compiled into a database that can be accessed on a CD-ROM or downloaded at www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/database.html. For more information or to report your emissions, call toll-free (800) 803-5182 or (202) 586-0688. For more information on greenhouse gas reductions, visit www.wasteage.com.