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Monitoring and Reporting Emissions

2010 April 20

As we’ve learned in some recent blogs, one of the key components of successful cap and trade programs is regular monitoring and reporting of emissions by sources. I’ll use our Acid Rain Program as an example to explain why.

In the Acid Rain Program (called ARP for short), all power plants must adhere to monitoring guidelines in The Code Of Federal Regulations Part 75, Volume 40.  We have a link on our website to a plain English guide to Part 75.  Basically, these regulations say that all power plants must monitor and report accurate emissions data to the EPA. Most power plants are required to use CEMS, which stands for Continuous Emission Monitors.   These CEMS monitor important information such as the amount of pollution coming out of a smokestack (pollution concentration) and how fast the emissions are coming out of the stack (stack gas volumetric flow rate).

Photo of a CEMS monitoring system

Photo of a CEMS monitoring system

While some sources are not required to use CEMS, they still must report their emissions; however, they are allowed to do it in a different way depending on the type of fuel that the power plant burns.  Regardless of the method used, the highest emitting power plants have to use the most accurate monitoring methods for their fuel type.  The power plants that emit a lower level of emissions are allowed to use less rigorous methods as long as that method does not underestimate the amount of emissions. I thought it was interesting that in 2008, 32 percent of power plants in the program used CEMS to monitor their emissions but this meant that over 99 percent of emissions were monitored by CEMS.

No matter what kind of monitoring a power plant uses, the data they collect and report still go through very strict testing to make sure that the data collected are accurate.  This process is called Quality Assurance, or QA.  In the ARP, these QA procedures have resulted in very accurate and reliable emissions data.

In the ARP, the data that the power plants collect are reported to the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division (CAMD)  CAMD uses this emissions data to make sure that the power plants are in compliance with the ARP’s goal of reducing emissions.  Every unit that is in the ARP must report emissions to CAMD for every hour that the unit is operating.  That’s a lot of data!   CAMD then makes this data available on the EPA website so anyone can analyze it.  Brokerage firms, environmental organizations, university professors, and the general public can analyze these data, providing an incredible amount of transparency and credibility because anyone can look at any time to see what a regulated power plant is emitting.  Making this information available is very important for the allowance trading market to work efficiently and is essential to getting emission reductions at the lowest possible cost.

EPA’s Acid Rain Program would not be successful in reducing pollution if we didn’t have a strong system in place for power plants to collect and report their data.

Before reading our blogs on EPA’s Acid Rain Program, were you aware of all of the components that make a cap and trade program successful?  Share your thoughts!

Cindy Walke has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and Policy from the Johns Hopkins University.  It’s this degree that inspired her to seek employment with EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division, where she currently manages website communications.

Source:  “Fundamentals of Successful Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification under a Cap-and-Trade Program” written by John Schakenbach, Robert Vollaro, and Reynaldo Forte, of CAMD’s Emissions Monitoring Branch.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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