WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed a comprehensive U.S. system for reporting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, a step toward regulating pollutants that spur climate change.
The new plan for a carbon registry would affect fossil fuel suppliers, automakers and companies that emit at least 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year, the EPA said in a statement.
The U.S. government already has statistics on emissions from coal-fired power plants, which also emit carbon dioxide.
Some 13,000 facilities, accounting for about 85 percent to 90 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, would be covered under the proposal.
"Our efforts to confront climate change must be guided by the best possible information," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said. "...This is a critical step toward helping us better protect our health and environment -- all without placing an onerous burden on our nation's small businesses."
Forty-one states already participate in a voluntary plan, called The Climate Registry, which measures and reports greenhouse emissions, and the EPA acknowledged this work.
President Barack Obama has been vocal in his support for a market-based cap-and-trade plan to limit carbon emissions to try to stem global warming. Members of Congress have already begun working on legislation that would make this happen.
"This is an important foundation step toward regulating greenhouse gases and reducing them," David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council said by telephone after meeting with EPA officials.
On Capitol Hill, the EPA's plan drew applause from key lawmakers, including California Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who helped provide $3.5 million to EPA to set up a greenhouse gas emissions registry for all sectors of the U.S. economy by June 26, 2009.
On a parallel track, a draft EPA presentation made public by the online publication Greenwire indicates the agency plans to issue a so-called endangerment finding in mid-April that calls greenhouse pollution a danger to human health.
After a public comment period and public hearings, that could allow EPA to regulate it under the Clean Air Act.
The Clean Air Act mandates collecting data on emissions from electric power plants, but a 2007 congressional move to require big industries and the transportation sector to report on how much carbon they emit was blocked by the Bush administration.
The EPA's plan envisions the new reporting requirements going into effect by next year, with the first annual report submitted to the environment agency in 2011 for the 2010 calendar year.
The rules would apply to companies that make fossil fuels, industrial chemicals, cars and engines, the agency said, along with large so-called direct emitters that send 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide or more each year into the atmosphere.
"The vast majority of small businesses would not be required to report their emissions because their emissions fall well below the threshold," the EPA said.
Direct emissions sources that would be required to report their emissions include energy-intensive sectors like cement production, iron and steel production and electricity generation.
Complying with this reporting rule would cost the private sector $160 million for the first year, with annualized private sector costs estimated at $127 million in subsequent years, the agency said.
Editing by Eric Walsh