Led by California and New England, 31 states representing more than 70 percent of the population announced last week that they would jointly track and measure greenhouse-gas emissions by major industries.
The newly formed Climate Registry is the latest example of states going farther than the federal government in taking steps to combat global warming. State officials and some affected industries and environmentalists say the registry is a crucial precursor to both mandatory and market-based regulation of industrial gases that contribute to warming.
All agree the most important part of the new registry is that the emissions statistics collected will be subjected to third-party verification, unlike a Bush administration program that does not require verification.
"You have to be able to count carbon pollution in order to cut carbon pollution," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. "The registry gives business and policymakers an essential accounting tool for tracking the success of the many emerging global-warming emission-reduction initiatives that are blossoming across the country."
Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware have all joined the registry. Participants range from states that are moving aggressively to impose mandatory greenhouse-gas reduction policies to others that are just beginning to examine whether to take even voluntary steps.
"This includes a lot of deeply conservative states who have signed on that we weren't expecting," said Nancy Whalen, spokeswoman for the California Climate Action Registry, currently the only statewide emissions tracking system, which helped develop the multistate program. "We're all going to be measuring in the same way, so there's not going to be a patchwork of different programs."
The registry, which will be based in Washington, with regional offices, will begin tracking data in January.
Bob Malone, chairman and president of energy giant BP America, said, "We believe a credible reporting system of greenhouse-gas emissions is the first step in developing government policy and corporate programs."
BP produces and sells fuel to power plants, cars and trucks, the main contributors to greenhouse gases. The company is among several that applauded creation of the registry, believing that in time they can profit from accurate reporting and reduction of their emissions.
All it takes for a state to join the registry is for the governor to sign off on the principles, which include agreeing to "provide an accurate, complete, consistent, transparent and verified set of greenhouse gas emissions data . . . supported by a robust accounting and verification infrastructure."
The registry will be funded by industry fees, foundation donations and public money.
Some Democrats criticized the Bush administration for not doing more, leaving states to take action on their own.
"The Climate Registry is another example of how states are taking the lead in the absence of federal action to address greenhouse gas emissions in this country," said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat whose state is a charter member.
Kristen Hellmer, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, responded, "Apparently the critics are not paying attention to what has been happening in Washington. In 2002, President Bush called for the creation of a national reporting registry, and the federal government followed that call by creating state-of-the-art reporting protocols where businesses and institutions submit comprehensive reports on their greenhouse gas emissions, sequestration and reductions."
The administration, Hellmer added, welcomes the states' action "as it is supplementing the extensive work already done at the federal level."
But industry, environmental and state registry officials said that while it was true that the U.S. Department of Energy has a greenhouse-gas registry, it does not require independent verification of data, among other key differences.
Energy Department spokeswoman Megan Barnett said the department in April 2006 strengthened its guidelines for reporting emissions by recommending, but not requiring, that they be verified by a third party.
Kerry Kelly, a lobbyist for Waste Management, a national trash-hauling firm and owner of landfills that emit methane, another greenhouse gas, said that while there was nothing wrong with the federal program, the multistate approach would work better due to its uniform reporting standards. "I would think that it would become a model for the federal government to look at," Kelly said.
Dale Bryk, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, criticized the Energy Department registry for allowing participants to "cherry-pick and just report emissions data from facilities that are reducing pollution, without disclosing the emissions data from other facilities that are increasing pollution."
Some said the registry was an improvement over the federal effort, but not perfect because it was still voluntary, with not all companies that emit the gases required to report them.
"A mandatory registry would be better," said V. John White, head of a Sacramento, Calif.-based energy and environment group.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was "proud" that the new registry was modeled after his state's, "and trust that the rest of the nation will join our fight to protect the environment and secure a sound economy."
States in the registry thus far are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
The Campo Kumeyaay Nation of Native Americans based in Campo, Calif., near the Mexican border, has also joined, as have the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia.
More about the Climate Registry is at http://go.philly.com/earth