A new study commissioned by the Sierra Club, "Coming Clean on Industrial Emissions: Challenges, Inequities, and Opportunities in U.S. Steel, Aluminum, Cement, and Metcoke", takes an in-depth look at heavy manufacturing facilities around the country.
At the heart of the report is a new database that examines every domestic facility in four heavy industries that were in operation in 2020: 100 facilities that produced primary iron and steel, 12 merchant facilities that produced metallurgical coke for the iron and steel industry, 96 facilities that produced cement, and 7 that produced primary aluminum.
What gap does the study fill?
Industry is responsible for nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, alongside significant toxic releases that are harmful to public health. In response, the U.S. government has put forward a proposal to use federal procurement to reward manufacturers with higher environmental standards and invite heavy polluters to adopt cleaner processes (“Buy Clean”).
However, implementation and mobilizing public engagement with this effort faces challenges. While estimates exist for climate and toxic pollution from key sectors, there is not yet a public database that looks at how each facility compares with peers within the industry.
The study commissioned by the Sierra Club sets out to provide a method for calculating the pollution burden and establish a firmer foundation for implementing public policy measures to decarbonize the industrial sector.
What is in the study?
The database compiled by Synapse examines every domestic facility in four heavy industries: steel, cement, aluminum, and metallurgical coke. The data for each facility includes greenhouse gas emissions released from the site (Scope 1) and emissions produced as a consequence of the facility’s energy consumption (Scope 2). This data is further broken down into aggregate emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent and the intensity of climate pollution relative to the facility’s industrial output.
The database also details the local communities’ exposure to pollution such as particulate matter, air toxics that contribute to heightened cancer risk, and wastewater discharge. Taking into account the disproportionate pollution burden borne by disadvantaged communities, the study also outlines the demographic composition of the local communities, including race, income, and educational attainment.
Finally, the database includes employment figures at each facility to show its current economic impact on the local community and underscore the importance of investments that would both employ the community while reducing pollution.
What does it do?
Many existing databases for industrial emissions assume uniform emissions intensity for all facilities within a nation. By examining the facilities individually, this upcoming database compiled by Synapse provides the public and policymakers with a tool that spotlights actors with best practices and identifies when low emissions are the result of lower material output.
In addition, the database and the accompanying report will outline where the publicly available resources on toxic pollution lack precision. This promises to pinpoint areas for the U.S. government to intensify monitoring and ensure public awareness of the social costs of pollution.
These outcomes provide the basis for the public to engage with policymakers in shaping Buy Clean initiatives in the years ahead.
Where do we want to go from here?
An interactive map will accompany the release of the database. Sierra Club hopes to create a more interactive tool that will make the database more accessible to both community members and policymakers. The BlueGreen Alliance has been supporting these efforts and plans to build on this study and their existing database for a deeper analysis into the jobs component of this study.
In addition, several derivative products are possible from this database. These include analysis on the effects of implementing different Buy Clean standards on domestic output.