Air Board to Rely on Private Verifiers for GHG Emissions Reports

By Published On: May 25, 2007

The California Air Resources Board plans to rely on independent third parties to verify greenhouse gas emissions reports under the state’s new climate change law–with spot checks by agency staff and no emissions reporting fees for regulated businesses. Air board staff revealed these and other details about what they plan to include in a mandatory annual greenhouse gas reporting rule at a May 23 meeting. Reliance on third parties to verify the accuracy of the emissions reports would mark a departure from the traditional reporting program for smog-forming and toxic air pollutants in the state. Reports for those pollutants generally are submitted with fees that cover the cost of scrutiny by local air districts and the state air board. However, air board staff said their plan to have third parties verify greenhouse gas emissions reports is consistent with what already is being done in Europe and in voluntary reporting programs. Under these programs, emitting companies pay private verification firms instead of government agencies to check over their emissions reports. “It is analogous to California Climate Action Registry certification,” said Rajinder Sahota, air board verification leader. Emissions reports voluntarily submitted to the registry must be certified by third-party verifiers who have been approved by the registry and the California Energy Commission. “We have been told mistakes are common,” said Sahota, defending the need for verification of reports. She explained that verifiers would have to be trained and certified under “a curriculum” developed by CARB, which would spot check verified reports once submitted to the state. However, industry representatives questioned the stringency of the verification proposal, which would require power plant reports to be verified one time during the first three years of reporting and utility reports each year. The frequency of verification for utility reports should be reconsidered and possibly relaxed after the air board gains experience, said Kyle Davis, PacifiCorp environmental policy and strategy manager. Also questioned was why verifiers would be limited to working for any given facility for no more than three consecutive years. The air board plans to impose the limit, among others, to prevent the relationship between verifiers and their clients from becoming too cozy and creating any potential for conflict of interest, Sahota explained. The air board also outlined its plans for greenhouse gas reporting by the state’s power industry. Under it, both the operators of 330 power plants in California and all investor-owned and publicly owned utilities would have to report greenhouse gas emissions. Reporting on sulfur hexafluoride emissions might even be required for independent companies that maintain power transmission and distribution lines for utilities. The compound is used in equipment along the grid. “We recognize we have some overlap,” said Pamela Burmich, air board power/utilities leader, adding that it is likely that utility vehicle fleets will be covered too. In addition, the air board is planning to have other major industries subject to the emissions reporting requirements–such as refineries and cement producers–include electricity purchase information in their emissions reports. However, purchases of natural gas would not be included in the reports, at least initially, said Doug Thompson, air board climate change reporting section manager. Utilities questioned how the air board planned to handle greenhouse gas emissions changes that may result if there is an influx of plug-in hybrid vehicles in California. Power-sector emissions could rise, though the increase would be more than offset by the decrease in automotive emissions, said Gary Schoonyan, Southern California Edison regulatory affairs director. The agency recognizes the issue and will address it as it develops its strategy for implementing the climate change law, said Richard Bode, air board emissions inventory branch chief. Air board staff members said they plan to release a first draft of the proposed greenhouse gas reporting rules, including the proposed verification requirements, in mid-July. The agency’s board is expected to approve final reporting rules in December.

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