Led by California, 31 states representing more than 70% of the U.S. population announced Tuesday that they would measure and jointly track greenhouse gas emissions by major industries.
The newly formed Climate Registry is the latest example of states going further than the federal government in taking steps to combat global warming. State officials, along with some industrial groups 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 that the most important part of the new registry is subjecting emissions statistics 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.
"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."
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, the only current 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 out there."
California registry officials worked closely with New England states to develop the system.
The new registry will be based in Washington, D.C., and will have regional offices. It 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 the creation of the registry, believing that in time they can profit from accurate reporting and reduction of their emissions.
Joining the registry is easy. A governor just needs to sign off on its 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 act.
"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.
White House Council on Environmental Quality spokeswoman Kristen Hellmer 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."
Hellmer added, "We welcome this action by the states as it is supplementing the extensive work already done at the federal level."
But industry, environmental and state officials said that although the U.S. Department. of Energy has a registry, it did not require independent verification of data, among other key differences.
Energy Department spokeswoman Megan Barnett said the department in April 2006 strengthened its reporting guidelines by recommending, but not requiring, that they be third-party verified.
Kerry E. Kelly, a lobbyist for Waste Management, a national trash hauling firm that owns landfills that emit methane, another greenhouse gas, said that although there was nothing wrong with the federal program, the multistate approach would work better because of its uniform reporting standards.
"I would think that it would become a model for the federal government to look at," said Kelly.
Dale Bryk , an attorney for the NRDC, criticized the DOE 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 imperfect because it was still voluntary.
"A mandatory registry would be better," said V. John White, head of a Sacramento-based energy and environment group.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said of the new registry: "I'm proud that [it] was modeled after California's Climate Action Registry and trust that the rest of the nation will join our fight to protect the environment and secure a sound economy."
In addition to the 31 states, the Campo Kumeyaay Nation of Native Americans in Campo, Calif., near the Mexican border, has joined.
Two Canadian provinces, British Columbia and Manitoba, also have signed on.
More information is available at www.theclimateregistry.org