Who are the Carbon Polluters in Your Backyard?

Who are the biggest carbon polluters in your neighborhood, your city, or your state?  What power plants or factories near you are responsible for the pollution that’s driving global warming that threatens your health and your planet? 

Until today, most of us had no way to know.   But this is about to change – starting today, you can find the facilities in your community that emit the most carbon pollution, thanks to a new user-friendly webtool from EPA.  And knowing who’s polluting is the first step towards holding them accountable.

In 2008, Congress passed a “right-to-know” law requiring the nation’s biggest polluters to publicly report their emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants each year.  The law charged the EPA with establishing a system of “mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions above appropriate thresholds in all sectors of the economy of the United States.”  The new law fills an important gap in the public’s right-to-know about pollution.  Since the 1980s, companies have had to report their annual emissions of hundreds of toxic chemicals, and the Toxic Release Inventory has enabled many communities to pressure big factories to cut their hazardous emissions.  Power plants also have been required to report their CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act since 1990.  Now, all the biggest industrial polluters will have to do the same.

The new EPA website provides data reported by the companies on their 2010 emissions.  The database covers 28 industrial source categories ranging from A (adipic acid production, used to make nylon) to Z (zinc production).  It includes such carbon big-hitters as power plants, oil refineries, and cement plants. In addition to these “direct” emitters, the website gives data on “suppliers” of coal, oil, and other fuels, showing the carbon emissions from combusting these products.  You can scroll over maps of states or cities and zoom in to get profiles on specific facilities.  You can also search for polluting facilities in a specific city or town, or search by a facility’s name.  In addition, you can sort by facilities that emit above a certain amount, compare across sectors or states or a wide range of other characteristics, and generate graphs and charts.

Each facility has a unique code that can be used to search in the Toxic Release Inventory or other EPA databases to see what other pollutants -- air toxics, sulfur dioxide, or nitrogen oxides -- the facility is putting out into your air.

If you want more information, you can get detailed spreadsheets from EPA containing other data reported by the sources. These spreadsheets include information on corporate ownership, which can be used to connect the dots among the facilities owned by the same company.

So go to the site. Play around with it a bit, do your own research. Find out who’s the biggest part of the problem.  See who’s polluting near you.  And compare one plant against another to see who’s cleaner and who’s dirtier.  Think about what you can do to use the information in your own community and your own purchasing and investing decisions.

It’s your right to know – and we applaud EPA for doing its part in informing the public.