California on Thursday became the first state in the nation to require oil refineries, electricity generating plants, cement kilns and other major emitters to report their annual greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2009.
The mandatory reporting rule approved by state air regulators would affect 800 manufacturing facilities that account for about 95 percent of emissions from industrial sources in California.
Through the end of the year, businesses can continue to voluntarily submit their carbon emissions to the California Climate Action Registry, a nonprofit created by the state in 2000 to encourage companies and government agencies to track and ultimately reduce their emissions.
Under the new mandate, businesses will begin tracking their carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane emissions next year with the first report due to the state in 2009. The initial submissions won't be audited by a third party, but future reports will have to be verified.
Those primarily affected would include utility plants and providers, petroleum refineries and cement kilns, as well as other industrial sectors that spew into the air more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year such as food processors, steel foundries and glass container makers. Schools and hospitals are exempt from the new requirement.
The mandatory emissions reporting system for businesses was unanimously approved by the California Air Resources Board at its Thursday meeting and is the first significant action the state has taken on the matter since passing a landmark global warming law last year. The law, known as AB32, requires that the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
The board reached its decision after reading written testimony and listening to a parade of speeches from industry and environmental groups.
Anne McQueen, a consultant who represents Mitsubishi Cement and National Cement, told the board that transportation companies also should be required to report their emissions so cement plants, power providers and others will not have to shoulder the burden of reducing another industry's carbon footprint.
"We know we have to do our part, but we shouldn't have to do everyone's part," McQueen said during a break in the meeting.
Julia May of the environmental justice group, Communities for a Better Environment, said the "fatal flaw" of the mandatory reporting system was letting companies keep secret their emissions calculations. Under the rule, companies have to make public their annual emissions levels, but not the actual calculations used to arrive at those levels if doing so would divulge trade secrets.
In written testimony, the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, which represents 30,000 companies, prefers that only direct emissions be reported and that companies certify the results on their own instead of hiring a third party.
"These are big companies and they're very savvy and have a lot of experience," Joe Lyons, the association's energy lobbyist, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
The Air Resources Board also agreed that emissions will have to be 173 million tons less than projected 2020 levels to revert to 1990 levels.
Board staff members for the past year worked to quantify the state's 1990 emissions using a variety of data. They calculated that the state spewed about 427 million tons of greenhouse gases in 1990.
Preliminary figures project that emissions for the state could reach 600 million tons by 2020 if no action is taken. That means the state needs to prevent 173 million tons of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from entering the air to meet the 1990 target.
Also Thursday, the board passed a new rule forcing operators of cargo ships and other large vessels to use land-based electric power while docked at ports around the state. It's estimated the measure would cut diesel and smog-forming emissions from docked vessels by nearly 50 percent by 2014 and by 80 percent by 2020.