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Tampa Bay Area Records Gas Emissions for the First Time

Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties produced 31.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent in 2021. The energy industry produced 45 percent of the region’s emissions, with transportation close behind.

cars on a road, in traffic
Traffic streams northbound on McMullen Booth Road on Jan. 18, 2023, in Palm Harbor. Cars and other parts of the transportation sector ranked No. 2, after energy, as the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Tampa Bay region, according to a report compiled by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.
Douglas R. Clifford/TNS
For the first time ever, a local agency has taken inventory of greenhouse gas emitted by the Tampa Bay, Fla., area — quantifying how much our region contributes to climate change.

The verdict: 31.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent were produced by Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties in 2021, according to the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

For months, metro areas, states, territories and tribal governments across the country have been doing the same, trying to pinpoint how much greenhouse gases are emitted by their tailpipes, power plants and more as part of a vast program created by the Inflation Reduction Act. After filing these initial reports to the federal government, each area will work on a more comprehensive version of their plans to submit in 2025.

How Tampa Bay’s emissions stack up depend on the point of comparison: It produced less than half the harmful gases of the Miami metro area, which includes Broward and Palm Beach counties, and less than the greater Orlando area. But it had roughly double the emissions of the entire state of Delaware.

The greenhouse gases sent into the atmosphere include methane, nitrous oxide and others — all of which trap heat in the atmosphere — which are measured in how much an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide would impact the climate.

“Now that we have it at the regional scale, we can look at the big picture,” said Courtney Wright, project manager for this effort at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

How Tampa Bay fits in to the entire state of Florida’s emissions is unclear. Florida was one of just five states that opted not to participate in the program.

The draft plan also broke down the sectors that emit the most greenhouse gasses in Tampa Bay. The top category, producing roughly 45 percent of the region’s emissions, was energy — the processes used to create electricity, like burning natural gas in power plants, that keeps the lights on in homes, businesses and warehouses. That slightly surpassed the 43 percent produced by transportation, mostly gas and diesel vehicles driving on the road, as well as the fuel burned by planes at Tampa International Airport.

Other, smaller emission sources included landfills, the burning of trash at waste-to-energy facilities and deforestation. The Tampa Bay area’s trees helped subtract about 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent, bringing down our net total slightly.

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is working with officials in the Sarasota, Orlando and Jacksonville areas to apply for an additional grant to improve energy efficiency and potentially add solar panels to community centers and schools, Wright said. Adding more solar energy, incentivizing people to buy electric vehicles and improving public transit were among the solutions identified in the plan.

If many of the plan’s solutions are adopted, it estimates that Tampa Bay’s greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by as much as 26 percent by 2030 and 63 percent by 2050.

©2024 Tampa Bay Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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