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Firms fight to keep global warming data secret

By Dina Cappiello
AP Writer

Washington — Some of the country’s largest emitters of heat-trapping gases, including businesses that publicly support efforts to curb global warming, don’t want the public knowing exactly how much they pollute.

Oil producers and refiners, along with manufacturers of steel, aluminum and even home appliances, are fighting a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency that would make the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that companies release — and the underlying data businesses use to calculate the amounts — available online.

While gross estimates exist for such emissions from transportation and electricity production and manufacturing as a whole, the EPA is requiring companies for the first time to submit information for each individual facility.

The companies say that disclosing details beyond a facility’s total emissions to the public would reveal company secrets by letting competitors know what happens inside their factories. More importantly, they argue, when it comes to understanding global warming, the public doesn’t need to know anything more than what goes into the air.

“There is no need for the public to have information beyond what is entering the atmosphere,” Steven H. Bernhardt, global director for regulatory affairs for Honeywell International Inc., said in comments filed with the agency earlier this year. The Morristown, N.J.-based company is a leading manufacturer of hydrofluorocarbons, a greenhouse gas used in a variety of consumer products. Honeywell wants the EPA to reconsider its proposal, which company officials said would damage Honeywell’s business.

Other companies are pressing the agency to require a third party to verify the data, so they don’t have to submit it at all, or to allow them to argue on a case-by-case basis to keep some of it confidential, a suggestion the EPA warned would delay public release.

EPA officials said it’s necessary to make the data public in order for the companies’ calculations to be checked.

“It is important for outside groups and the public to have access to this information so they can essentially see and check EPA’s and the company’s math — giving the public greater confidence in the quality of data,” according to a statement attributed to the agency.

As the EPA prepares to regulate greenhouse gases, the data companies are being required to submit will help determine what limits eventually are put in place and whether they are working.

The EPA required companies responsible for large amounts of heat-trapping pollution to begin this year collecting 1,500 pieces of information. The data, which are due to be reported by March, will be used in the first-ever inventory of greenhouse gases, a massive database that will reveal most sources of greenhouse gases in the United States.

Most companies don’t have a problem telling the government or the public how much they pollute; they already do it for other types of pollution, such as toxic chemicals and sulfur dioxide, the gas that forms acid rain.

What they oppose — almost unanimously — is the public disclosure of the underlying data necessary to calculate the annual amount of greenhouse gases.

The EPA wouldn’t need that information if companies measured greenhouse gas pollution at its source. But that equipment is expensive and for many companies would cost millions of dollars.

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