September 2, 2008

A fog of more

A new report shows Louisville is still a big carbon emitter. Is anybody — including you — doing anything about it?

Louisville’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased by almost 10 percent since 1990, though the city remains in range with similarly sized communities, according to a preliminary report released last week by the Partnership for a Green City. 

Hoping to shrink Louisville’s carbon footprint by 2012, the group’s Climate Control Committee released the findings of its preliminary inventory as a first step in developing a climate action plan.

The report found that Louisville’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 8.5 percent since 1990, from 18.2 millions tons to 19.7 million in 2006. The projections from the report also say by the year 2012, the city will emit 20.2 million tons of greenhouse gases. 

However, glaring omissions in the report raise questions about the true level of Louisville’s carbon output. For instance, the report lists that U of L, TARC, Louisville Water Company, Louisville International Airport and MSD all produced zero carbon waste in 2006. During the findings presentation, two researchers from Trinity Consultants, who conducted the study, said some data was unavailable.

“There are some pretty significant gaps,” says Sarah Lynn Cunningham, a member of the partnership’s steering committee. An engineer and co-founder of Louisville Climate Action Network, a citizen group that encourages energy efficiency, Cunningham says she doesn’t believe the report is purposefully misleading; however, the numbers should be looked at as low-ball estimates. 

 “We cannot compel the private sector to disclose all of its fossil fuel purchases, but we know they’re buying and burning high quantities of coal and natural gas,” she says.

The report also attributed members of the partnership — the University of Louisville, Jefferson County Public Schools and Metro government — with only 4.8 percent of Louisville’s total carbon emissions. 

Because the report did not account for fuel usage outside of LG&E purchases, Cunningham says the numbers from the partnership may also be skewed. Many of Louisville’s largest companies and industries buy fossil fuels from other providers. 

“Those who consume the largest quan-tities of fuel are the most inclined to buy from the open market,” Cunningham says.

Matt Stull, spokesman for the Air Pollution Control District, says the missing data will eventually be accounted for to give members of the partnership a more accurate picture, adding that the report was a starting point to solving Louisville’s carbon problem.

“This is still a preliminary document,” he says. “Eventually we’re going to be held to a final inventory.”

Stull tells LEO Weekly the report is a much more in-depth study than the one the Brookings Institution undertook earlier this year, which was an overall snapshot of the city’s air pollutants. In May 2008, Brookings unveiled a similar report on the overall carbon footprints of America’s 100 largest cities, and Louisville ranked among the worst in the country. According to the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, in 2005 Louisville emitted 3.23 metric tons of carbon, well above the national average of 2.24 tons. Most of it came from highway transportation and residential energy waste, making the city the fourth-highest greenhouse gas emitter per capita.  

Stull says this report is more exhaustive and measures specific sectors of Louisville’s emissions, including the city’s residential, commercial, transportation and industrial carbon output. Once completed, the analysis, which cost $79,200, will give the committees in the partnership a starting point to make proper policy recommendations that will be used to develop a Climate Action Plan, Stull says. 

He tells LEO Weekly that the final analysis hopefully will be available later this year and presented at the Partnership for a Green City’s next bimonthly meeting in October. 

Much of the debate over what members of the partnership will do once the final analysis is complete, however, is dwarfed by the responsibility of the community to help shrink Louisville’s carbon footprint. To meet many of these reduction goals, residents must tighten their consumption. 

 “We’ve said all along it’s a community effort,” Stull says. “Members of the partnership can do only so much.”

For instance, according to the report, the residential sector has increased its carbon output by 23 percent since 1990.