A new study by Lyon and U-M doctoral student Eun-Hee Kim shows that about 60 percent of companies that voluntarily participate in the Department of Energy program show increases in greenhouse gas emissions rather than decreases.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that nonparticipating companies tend to have decreased emissions over time, relative to a 1995 baseline.
The study compares eight years of data reported voluntarily to the Department of Energy registry by the electric utilities industry — the sector that emits the greatest amount of greenhouse gases — with the utilities’ detailed fuel-use data required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. By comparing the data reported to the registry with the data reported to FERC, Lyon and Kim were able to evaluate the reported greenhouse gas reductions against actual reductions. Of the 550 reports analyzed in the study, 323 had actual increases in emissions rather than decreases.
According to the study, examples of lax registry reporting rules include the ability of companies to choose whether to report reductions at the company level or the level of individual projects. In addition, voluntary reporters can select baseline emissions that are historical or hypothetical and, when historical, can choose any year between 1987 and 1990, or simply calculate an average of those years. Thus, participating companies are able to optimize their results without violating the reporting rules and criteria.