/PRNewswire/ -- President Obama and the EPA are gearing up to put the nation on a low-carbon diet and their strategy would do Weight Watchers proud: Count first, cut later.
The counting begins on Jan. 1, 2010 when some 10,000 companies and other entities, including municipalities and even some universities, must start measuring their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
And while it's uncertain when mandatory cuts will be announced - and whether Congress or the EPA will act first - the law firm of Plunkett Cooney said today that polluters might want to start dieting sooner rather than later because their GHG emissions, down to the plant level, will become part of the public record after March 31, 2011.
"New regulations to reduce carbon emissions are coming but public scrutiny will come first," said Plunkett Cooney Senior Attorney. "Companies need to understand that from the standpoint of government regulation and public opinion, the debate about global warming is over. That means it's time for them to develop sustainability plans and carbon reduction strategies before regulators, environmental advocates, shareholders and other groups force them to act."
According to Mikalonis, entities that annually generate or emit at least 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, which includes gases such as methane, nitrous oxide or several fluorinated gases, must measure and report their emissions to the EPA or face fines of up to $37,500 per day for each violation. The reporting threshold is equivalent to the annual GHG emissions from approximately 4,600 passenger vehicles.
Entities covered under the new rules include fossil fuel-fired power plants, landfills, fuel production facilities, chemical plants, steel and aluminum works, cement factories and large livestock operations. Data collection for motor vehicle and engine manufacturers begins in 2011.
"The reporting rules will drive a lot of transparency and allow company-to-company and plant-to-plant comparisons," Mikalonis pointed out. "They will create public relations issues and potential legal problems for some companies, especially if they have been marketing themselves as 'green' when the emissions report says otherwise. But they also may speed up the adoption of energy-saving technologies, which can flow straight to the bottom line."
In Michigan, carbon dioxide accounts for the vast majority of GHG emissions, which are due in large part to burning fossil fuels for transportation and electricity. Methane is the next largest contributor, mostly from the anaerobic decay of solid waste in landfills. Nitrous oxide, the third largest contributor, comes chiefly from agricultural soil management and mobile source combustion.
In 2002, a study conducted for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality estimated per capita GHG emissions in Michigan were 6.2 million metric tons of carbon equivalents (MMTCE), which is slightly below the national average.
In terms of mandatory GHG cuts, Mikalonis said new rules are a fait accompli now that the EPA has said that rising levels are a danger to present and future populations. Companies must therefore decide how they want to influence the regulatory process.
"The EPA is obligated to enact rules to drive down greenhouse gas emissions if Congress does not act," Mikalonis said. "Congress must decide if it is willing to compromise on issues like carbon cap and trade and energy taxes, or accept the risk that EPA may implement 'command and control' solutions. Businesses may prefer a mix of voluntary and legislative solutions and that approach should inform their overall sustainability strategy."
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