Should Alaska require all major greenhouse gas producers to report how much they pour into the air each year?
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That's the proposal several environmental groups put to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation earlier this spring.
The answer was surprising. The groups got what might be the most encouraging rejection letter ever issued by an Alaska government bureaucracy.
"Extraordinarily well done," wrote back DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig.
We agree that Alaska is experiencing a warming trend, the commissioner wrote. We agree the potential effects of that trend are "alarming." We agree there is a need for government leadership in informing the public about it. We agree our agency likely has the legal authority to require mandatory greenhouse gas reporting. We agree an inventory of those emissions is "a logical first step."
Despite agreeing on those points, DEC concluded it is premature to require reports on greenhouse gas emissions. DEC says it is already hard at work on an inventory of those emissions. Many states and the feds are working on technical questions associated with such inventories, and it's not yet clear what the best way to collect and report the information will be.
The environmental groups don't think there's any reason to wait. They are still considering ways to push through a mandatory reporting system, according to Bob Shavelson of Cook Inlet Keeper.
As environmental groups point out, an inventory of carbon emissions is information a smart business will want to have. Emissions may signify costly waste of expensive fuel.
Plus, government carbon control measures are eventually going to come, and far-sighted businesses have already begun to prepare for the day. A business that knows its emissions will be ready if government decides to tax carbon emissions or create a cap-and-trade system for carbon pollution rights.
The federal Toxic Release Inventory is a good model for greenhouse gas reporting. It proves that the simple act of reporting pollution to the public can produce cleaner operations. Companies don't want the bad publicity from being listed as a major polluter on the toxics inventory. Companies do want the savings created when cutting toxic discharges also cuts waste.
As with the toxics release inventory, greenhouse gas reporting should exempt those who don't contribute much to the problem. Small businesses shouldn't have to worry about filing a complicated report on how much CO2 the office furnace cranks out in the winter.
There seems to be little dispute about the goal: Alaska needs a comprehensive, reliable inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. Any disagreement is over details, like timing. DEC should work quickly with affected industries and environmental groups to produce a practical system similar to the current Toxics Release Inventory.