2010: Many businesses must report greenhouse gas emissions

By Isaac Bonnell

Starting this year, many mid- to large-sized businesses in Washington state will have to report their greenhouse gas emissions to the state Department of Ecology.

The reporting rule is part of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Bill that was passed by the state legislature in 2008. The bill aims to determine the level of emissions being produced in Washington so that a plan can be developed to reduce those emissions.

This is the first time the state has required businesses to report greenhouse gas emissions, and in many aspects, this year will be a trial run for the program. Many of the reporting guidelines are modeled after The Climate Registry, a nonprofit organization that seeks to establish consistent greenhouse gas reporting standards throughout North America.

“Many people are concerned that this (reporting) will be a burden on them,” said Seth Preston, communications manager for the Department of Ecology. “We’re trying to make sure this is as easy as possible for folks.”

Reporting greenhouse gas emissions will be a once-a-year task and businesses will have until Oct. 31 to submit a report on the previous year’s emissions, Preston said. Not every business will be required to report — they must first reach a certain threshold. For 2010, businesses that emitted 25,000 metric tons or more of greenhouse gas will be required to report. In 2011, that threshold will be reduced to 10,000 metric tons and include more sources.

In general, most heavy industrial companies such as Alcoa and the oil refineries will have to report their emissions this year. But this is something that they’ve been expecting for a while, said Mike Rousseau, plant manager at Alcoa Intalco Works.

“This isn’t new for us, and [emissions reporting] is something that we believe in at all of our facilities,” Rousseau said.

Last year, Intalco Works and its sister facility in Wenatchee voluntarily signed up to report their emissions to The Climate Registry. So filing another report to the Department of Ecology shouldn’t prove too difficult, Rousseau said, especially since the state guidelines are similar.

Six other West Coast states also have regulations for reporting greenhouse gases, but Washington’s legislation is different in that it includes stationary and mobile sources of emissions. This includes both marine vessels, airplanes, trucks and any fleet of commercial vehicles.

The threshold for mobile sources of emissions is much lower — 2,500 metric tons of greenhouse gas. That’s because it’s more difficult to track and calculate the emissions for a shipping fleet than for a production facility, Preston said.

“But if you have a fuel-efficient fleet, you might not reach the threshold,” Preston added.

At this point, the Department of Ecology is still unsure just how many businesses will report their 2009 emissions, but they are expecting at least a few hundred, Preston said.

What are greenhouse gases?

Greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.

There are six different greenhouse gases that the Department of Ecology is concerned about: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

To learn more, visit the Deptartment of Ecology Web site www.ecy.wa.gov.

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