Corporations Fight EPA to Keep Emissions Data Secret


Photo: Richard Harrison, Geograph, CC BY
"There is no need for the public to have information beyond what is entering the atmosphere"
As part of the EPA's plan to begin cracking down on the nation's largest greenhouse gas emitters next year, the agency is requiring polluting companies to disclose their emissions. These disclosures will be collected in a database, which the EPA will use to monitor companies' pollution and their reduction achievements. But guess what? Polluting companies are protesting -- they say that making the emissions data public will reveal company secrets, and are fighting the EPA's proposal that the pollution data be published online. See, the companies say they have no problem disclosing their total emissions information -- they already disclose the amount of other emissions they pump out, anyways. But they're contesting two particular components of the plan: The requirement that they disclose specific emissions data for each of their polluting facilities, and that that data become available to the public, online.

The AP reports (via Yahoo!):

Oil producers and refiners, along with manufacturers of steel, aluminum and even home appliances, are fighting a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency that would make the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that companies release -- and the underlying data businesses use to calculate the amounts -- available online ...

The companies say that disclosing details beyond a facility's total emissions to the public would reveal company secrets by letting competitors know what happens inside their factories. More importantly, they argue, when it comes to understanding global warming, the public doesn't need to know anything more than what goes into the air." There is no need for the public to have information beyond what is entering the atmosphere," Steven H. Bernhardt, global director for regulatory affairs for Honeywell International Inc., said in comments filed with the agency earlier this year.

And Honeywell International, surprise, surprise, is one of the leading manufacturers of products that contain hydrofluorocarbons, one of the most potent greenhouse gases in existence.

There are a handful of actual reasons that companies are making a stink about disclosing their emissions to the public -- the 'company secrets' line is pure baloney. In fact, there are three primary ones, off the top of my head:

1. Disclosing the amount each companies facility pollutes will make the companies look bad. And residents living nearby polluting facilities may (rightfully) get upset (despite the fact that carbon emissions aren't directly harmful to human respiratory systems, they're often an indicator that other harmful pollutants are being emitted as well).

2. They think that disclosing specific data gives the EPA too much useful information, and increases the chances that they'll actually have to make costly adjustments to clean up their acts.

3. Registering formal complaints like these serves to delay enactment of the disclosure program, pushing the carbon cutting regulation further down the horizon.

Sure, the EPA's plan to regulate carbon isn't going to be pretty -- but because much of business, and the politicians who back its interests, helped kill the infinitely more elegant comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation, regulation is the best option we've got. It's high time the nation's biggest greenhouse gas polluters cleaned up their act -- whether they find it inconvenient or not.

More on EPA's Efforts to Cut Carbon
EPA's CO2 Scheme: the Most Ambitious Regulation Challenge in History
EPA Refutes Challenges to its Ability to Regulate Carbon

Tags: Consumerism | Corporate Responsibility | EPA | Global Climate Change | United States

Best of TreeHugger