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September 16, 2013
EPA devises solution to protect GHG data

Ever since issuing its greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting rule (GHGRR) in October 2009, the EPA and the many affected industrial sectors have been trying to resolve the problem of providing confidentiality protection to data that technically are not entitled to such protection under the Clean Air Act (CAA). 

The Agency is now proposing to resolve the issue through the use of electronic reporting and verification.  Essentially, an EPA electronic reporting tool will provide the Agency with the information it must have to determine if reported emissions are accurate without the need for businesses to actually report proprietary data to the Agency. 

CAA prohibits confidentiality

The GHGRR requires that 41 source categories determine their GHG emissions through direct measurement or through calculations based on mass balance or emissions factors and report this information to the EPA.  Equations used in calculations typically require inputting process- or production-specific data.  The EPA has held that it must have access to certain input data to verify that reported emissions are accurate and ensure compliance with the GHGRR.  Once the input data are reported to the EPA, the CAA prohibits the Agency from keeping the data confidential; therefore, the Agency may be required to release this information to the public. 

Affected industries informed the EPA that release of these data could compromise their competitive positions.  In response, the EPA announced that it would defer reporting of identified sensitive data until March 31, 2015, and evaluate industry concerns regarding the potential release of the data.  That evaluation is now complete and has resulted in the current proposal.

Inputs kept as records

The proposal has five main elements:

  1. Adding a requirement for certain reporters in 24 sectors to enter input data for which reporting was deferred into an EPA-provided input verification tool.  The tool would calculate the emissions and perform electronic verification.  The tool would not retain the entered inputs (i.e., the inputs would not be reported to the EPA); instead, the tool would conduct certain checks (e.g., accuracy of the inputs) at the time of data entry and generate a verification summary.  The verification summary, which would be accessible to the EPA once the annual report is submitted, would provide the Agency with information needed to conduct further verification, if necessary.
  2. For reporters required to use the input verification tool, changing the required format for maintaining records of these inputs to emissions equations.
  3. For reporters required to use the input verification tool, lengthening the record retention period from 3 to 5 years for all records that must be maintained under the GHGRR.  According to the EPA, the change would provide the Agency with additional time to perform any needed follow-up with reporters.
  4. For certain reporters required to use the input verification tool, adding new data elements to be reported for EPA’s verification purposes and proposing confidentiality determinations for the new data elements proposed to be reported.
  5. For reporters required to use the input verification tool, removing the requirement to report the inputs to emissions equations for which reporting was deferred to 2015 and disclosure concerns have been identified, and requiring these data to be kept on-site as records.

Also, reporting requirements for inputs to equations for which disclosure concerns were not identified (and would still be useful to the EPA) are not proposed for amendment. For these inputs to equations, the deferral would expire in March 2015, and the EPA would collect these data.

Click here for EPA’s proposed amendments to the GHGRR.

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