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Hoosier Households Not Held to Same Standards as Industry

Hoosier Environmental Council President Jesse Kharbanda

Photo: Courtesy photo

Hoosier Environmental Council President Jesse Kharbanda

In its most recent estimate, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration shows more than 230 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions were produced in Indiana in 2007.  The majority of that number is attributed to industry, but, a significant portion is produced by the average Hoosier.

Although industry is subject to regulations and the focus of an ongoing debate over those regulations, Hoosier households aren’t held to the same regulatory standards.

When a manufacturer in Indiana decides to build a new facility, leaders first calculate the total, possible emissions that a factory would produce in a year.  Next, they look at what regulations are in place before considering what pollution controls are necessary so that the factory does not worsen Indiana’s air quality.  Indiana Department of Environmental Management Spokeswoman Amy Hartsock said that makes it relatively easy to regulate industry, because businesses produce CO2 on such a large scale.

“Well, a larger source, such as factory or any kind of an industry, emissions are actually measured in pounds or tons per year,” Hartsock said.  “There’s a greater volume of emissions and then it is also possible to put controls on the equipment to make reductions and we can measure that as well.”

However, industry is not the only pollution producer, Hoosiers as a group are also big emitters even though they are virtually unregulated.    The most recent information from the US Energy Information Administration shows that Indiana homes contributed about one fifth as much pollution as industry not including CO2 emissions from cars.

“In Indiana, motor vehicles are the primary contributor of air pollutants,” Hartsock said.  “And we can say that for a pollutant like ground level ozone and other air toxics like benzene, mobile sources, which means our cars, account for up to 60% of the total man-made emissions.”

That begs the question: if industry is regulated, why aren’t Hoosier households?  Bloomington Department of Economic and Sustainable Development Assistant Director Adam Wason says it all boils down to availability of data.  He explains it is one thing to collect data from larger entities but it is much harder to get those same measurements on an individual or household level.

The problem is that an individual pollutes on such an incremental level that it’s almost impossible to measure.  If emissions can’t be measured, than it’s much more difficult for government to regulate.  Another roadblock comes at the enforcement end.

Hoosier Environmental Council Director Jesse Kharbanda said regulation is also partly an administrative issue and industry is an easy target.

“If the government’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s going to try to find the easiest way to administer that,” Kharbanda explained.  “It’s much easier to do that when you have to deal with say, a hundred players in a given industry, than a million people.  And so, that’s partly why the preference is toward industry over consumers.”

Combine that with the fact that any move to restrict individuals’ actions through regulation and Kharbanda said it is simply politically easier to manage the push back from industry than from voters.

This does not mean that the average Hoosier goes completely unregulated.  Hartsock, Kharbanda, and Wason all said there are other, creative ways to control people’s behavior by regulating the products they consume.  This can be done by improving automobile fuel standards, giving tax rebates for buying hybrid cars, and incentivizing green building practices, among other practices.

However, energy conservation on the individual level is largely up to each person.  Wason said that fact makes community education an important component for reducing Indiana’s CO2 emissions.  But, there remains one catch: because it is almost impossible to measure emissions, that means it is also almost impossible to measure the success of incentives and educational programs.

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