Carbon Pollution Data Put Power Plants Front and Center

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today 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. 

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 two tables at the end of this post.

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.


Top 20 Carbon Pollution-Emitting States, 2010 and 2011 (Million Metric Tons CO2-equivalent) 
2011 State Ranking  2011 Total Reported Emissions 2010 State Ranking  2010 Total Reported Emissions
Texas 250 Texas 236
Florida 114 Florida 125
Pennsylvania 114 Pennsylvania 122
Indiana 109 Ohio 116
Ohio 109 Indiana 115
Illinois 96 Illinois 98
Kentucky 93 Kentucky 93
Missouri 80 Georgia 80
Alabama 77 Alabama 78
West Virginia 72 Missouri 78
Georgia 71 Michigan 74
Michigan 68 West Virginia 73
North Carolina 60 North Carolina 71
Arizona 54 Arizona 56
Louisiana 53 Louisiana 50
Oklahoma 51 Oklahoma 50
Wisconsin 45 Wisconsin 46
Wyoming 44 Wyoming 46
Colorado 41 California 45
Tennessee 41 Colorado 43



Power Plants Emitting More Than 10 Million Metric Tons Per Year
Power Plant City  State  Metric Tons CO2e
Scherer Juliette GA 22,067,841
James H Miller Jr Quinton AL 22,061,458
Martin Lake Tatum TX 18,448,082
Labadie Labadie MO 18,229,430
W A Parish Thompsons TX 17,726,505
Gen J M Gavin Cheshire OH 17,650,544
Navajo Generating Station Page AZ 16,928,813
Bruce Mansfield Shippingport PA 16,278,605
Monroe Monroe MI 15,936,102
Gibson Owensville IN 15,823,015
Rockport Rockport IN 15,533,777
Bowen Cartersville GA 15,047,911
WESTAR ENERGY, INC. St. Marys KS 14,789,161
John E Amos St Albans WV 14,548,578
Colstrip Colstrip MT 14,092,896
Cross Pineville SC 14,004,683
Laramie River Wheatland WY 13,608,004
Belews Creek Belews Creek NC 13,596,704
Limestone Jewett TX 13,443,575
J M Stuart Manchester OH 13,286,419
Four Corners Steam Elec Station Fruitland NM 13,246,273
Sherburne County Becker MN 13,190,382
Monticello Mount Pleasant TX 13,005,890
Baldwin Energy Complex Baldwin IL 12,815,215
Jim Bridger Point Of Rocks WY 12,777,809
Big Cajun 2 New Roads LA 12,458,754
Paradise Drakesboro KY 12,436,546
Cumberland Cumberland City TN 12,294,761
Oak Grove Franklin TX 12,071,515
Intermountain Delta UT 11,843,842
San Juan Waterflow NM 11,822,117
Ghent Ghent KY 11,671,644
Walter Scott Jr. Energy Center Council Bluffs IA 11,523,892
Sam Seymour La Grange TX 11,459,125
Roxboro Steam Electric Plant Semora NC 11,200,738
Crystal River Power Plant Crystal River FL 11,119,611
Welsh Power Plant Pittsburg TX 11,035,103
E C Gaston Wilsonville AL 10,913,364
Independence Newark AR 10,875,345
Powerton Pekin IL 10,871,825
White Bluff Redfield AR 10,644,060
Marshall Terrell NC 10,543,157
Springerville Generating Station Springerville AZ 10,476,904
Hatfield's Ferry Power Station Masontown PA 10,401,485
Keystone Shelocta PA 10,391,728
Harrison Power Station Haywood WV 10,250,300
Big Bend Apollo Beach FL 10,198,116

Note:  EPA reports data in metric tons of CO2-equivalent.  A metric ton is equal to about 2200 pounds, or about 1.1 “short” tons, the more familiar unit of measurement in the U.S.  “CO2-equivalent” is a way of comparing the heat-trapping power of different greenhouse gases.

Thanks to Deborah Cooper and Starla Yeh for help on this post.

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