Should Greenhouse Gas Emissions Be Confidential?

As new rules go into effect requiring certain industries to report on their greenhouse gas emissions, there is some question as to how much of the data collected should be considered “confidential business information.”

In a sign that such concerns are being taken seriously, the EPA has sent a draft rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget that would sort out how much of the data will be publicly disclosed, reports Climatewire.

In March of 2011, for the first time, companies responsible for about 85 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gases will report their ghg emissions under new EPA rules announced last September. The reporting rules were mandated by Congress in 2007 and are separate from the controversial proposed regulation of carbon dioxide by the EPA.

The rules are essentially a nation-wide attempt to do what some state governments and private or non-profit groups like the Carbon Disclosure Project do on a more limited basis.

“This will become the data of record,” said Pamela Campos, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, adding that efforts in the private sector and on the state level were critical to getting the ball rolling.

While the Clean Air Act specifically states that emissions data is public, the accounts kept by companies to keep track of emissions may contain confidential business information, and thus may be subject to strict privacy requirements. Wrangling over what is and isn’t confidential could hold up emissions reporting, part of the reason the EPA is seeking to clarify the rules now, months before data will be released.

Excluded from mandatory reporting is the oil and gas industry. However, last month the EPA moved to included that industry in its reporting requirements. Bill Bush of the American Petroleum Institute said some of the emissions data is proprietary and therefore should be confidential. “We think there should be a process for dealing with that,” he said.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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