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Creating a U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Registry

The U.S. Congress is debating national legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For a program like cap-and-trade to work, it must rely on a robust national greenhouse gas registry. What is a registry and what should one look like?

Measuring greenhouse gas emissions is an important step toward mitigating climate change. Policies to reduce greenhouse gases must rely on a system to collect emissions data from regulated facilities, such as power plants, factories, and refineries, so we know how much they emit and can track progress as they reduce their emissions.

This is especially true for emissions trading, where individual facilities are regulated and emission credits are traded in the marketplace. The data tracked in a national registry would also support climate policies at all levels—national, state, and local.

However, there is currently no national system for collecting greenhouse gas data from these facilities. What would a national registry have to look like?

WRI's new policy brief, Designing a U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Registry is a blueprint for policymakers looking for answers to that question. In addition to making the general case for registries, this brief identifies the fundamentals that any successful program must include:

  • Follow international standards in collecting accurate, complete, and verified data;
  • Collect data from all facilities covered by a cap-and-trade program, plus additional sources in order to support other policies;
  • Collect information on both direct and indirect emissions (i.e., on-site emissions plus those from electricity use);
  • Harmonize with existing registries at the state/region level;
  • Make all data publicly available; and
  • Begin collecting emissions data before a cap-and-trade program becomes operational.

Collecting data soon is important. In an emissions trading system, having data early will help regulators implement the program. It's therefore important to get a national registry up and running as soon as possible.

Fortunately, last December, Congress passed, and President Bush signed into law, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008. The law includes a provision directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from appropriate sources in all sectors of the U.S. economy. EPA is moving forward to develop regulations for the registry and reporting program later this year.

However, the Bush Administration's proposed 2009 budget does not include funding for EPA to implement the registry. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have criticized the Administration’s lack of funding to support the greenhouse gas registry. It's important for Congress to resolve the funding gap so that EPA can implement the program. And it's important for EPA to design the program so that regulators have the data they need to implement successful climate change policies.

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