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New EPA Study Shows Largest Greenhouse Gas Emitters—Are They in Your Backyard?

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New EPA Study Shows Largest Greenhouse Gas Emitters—Are They in Your Backyard?

Natural Resources Defense Council

By David Doniger

You can check out which of the nation’s 1,594 power plants is in your backyard, and how much carbon pollution it puts out, using EPA’s handy map-based emission data website, which includes data from about 8,000 large facilities in nine industrial sectors.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday released plant-by-plant data on 2011 emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping air pollutants. The data show once again that power plants are the number one source of the carbon pollution that drives climate change, churning out more than 2.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in 2011. 

The new data confirm that cleaning up the nation’s fleet of power plants should be the centerpiece of President Obama’s actions to reduce the threat of climate change

In his inaugural address two weeks ago, the president vowed: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” 

Power plants are far and away the number one source of carbon pollution, responsible for two-thirds of the 3.3 billion metric tons reported by all large industrial facilities, and for 40 percent of the nation’s overall CO2 emissions. (Overall U.S. emissions of CO2 and other heat-trapping pollutants total about 6.8 billion metric tons, including those from transportation, other industries, and smaller sources.)

Total power plant CO2 emissions in 2011 were down about 4.5 percent from 2010, reflecting the shift towards burning more natural gas and less coal (a trend that continued in 2012—see here, p.87—and will show up in the plant-by-plant pollution reports EPA publishes next year).

Renewables and efficiency are growing fast—renewable investments increased by 23 percent from 2010 to 2011 according to the Energy Information Administration, and electric efficiency program budgets, for example, rose from $2.7 billion to $6.8 billion between 2007 and 2011. 

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued an innovative plan in December showing how the president can use the Clean Air Act to cut the dangerous carbon pollution from the nation’s existing power plants, slowing climate change, saving lives, creating jobs and growing the economy.

Our plan achieves huge health and climate benefits at surprisingly low cost, is fair and flexible for each state and power company, holds power bills down and triggers huge job-creating clean energy investments that can’t be outsourced.  

The NRDC plan cuts overall power sector carbon emissions 26 percent in 2020 and 35 percent in 2025, from 2005 levels. Because of its fair and flexible design features, our plan achieves enormous climate protection and public health benefits worth $26-60 billion in 2020, at a reasonable cost of $4 billion.

You can check out which of the nation’s 1,594 power plants is in your backyard, and how much carbon pollution it puts out, using EPA’s handy map-based emission data website, which includes data from about 8,000 large facilities in nine industrial sectors. 

You can search for power plants in your state or county, or look up any specific power station. You can see which states, which plants and which companies are the biggest polluters, and you can compare 2011 emissions with those from 2010, which EPA published last year. You can also look up the emissions of the other big polluters: oil and gas production facilities, refineries, chemical plants and other industries.

Just as examples, I’ve listed the top 20 states and the power plants that emit more than 10 million tons per year in the following two tables.

We have this invaluable “right to know” information because Congress, in 2008 legislation, directed EPA to collect carbon pollution data from every large industrial facility, and to make it publicly available in an easy-to-use form. 

So, thanks to EPA’s greenhouse gas emission database, we know exactly where the carbon pollution is coming from. And following NRDC’s power plant plan, we know how we can cut it down to size. 

President Obama said eloquently in his inaugural address that “our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity,” and he spoke of our duty to “preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.” 

Now, as he prepares his State of the Union address, we look to the president to launch specific plans to curb the carbon pollution from the power plant fleet, and from other big industries, using the laws Congress has already entrusted him to enforce.

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic.

——–

Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy.

 

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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