New Report Benchmarks Air Pollution from Top 100 Electric Companies, Shows Wide Disparities Among Competitors

Groups say Congress, Wall Street Should Look to the Best Performers

WASHINGTON (March 21, 2002) -- In a finding that highlights the financial and political stakes in the current debate over reducing power plant emissions, a report released today reveals wide disparities in air pollution emissions from the 100 largest electric generating companies. The report concludes that fewer than 20 power generation companies in the United States account for 50 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2), mercury (Hg), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emitted into the air by the 100 largest public and private electric power companies in the United States. Between 4 and 6 companies accounted for 25 percent of emissions of each pollutant.

Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Generation Owners in the U.S. - 2000 was released by CERES, a national coalition of environmental and investor groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated (PSEG), one of the electric power generation companies included in the report. The report analyzes data submitted by the companies to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other government agencies for the year 2000. Pollution effects associated with the four emissions include acid deposition, fine particulates, and regional haze (NOx and SO2), global warming (CO2), mercury deposition, nitrogen deposition and ozone smog (NOx).

The groups issued the report to assist government policy makers, corporate leaders, investors, and the public as they take actions that affect emissions from the electric utility industry. The report enables investors and policymakers to see the disparity in air pollution performance among the nation's largest power producers, and shape future regulatory and business decisions to reduce emissions.

David Gardiner, one of the report's authors and former assistant administrator of the EPA and executive director of the White House Climate Change Task Force under the Clinton administration, said "Like other publicly available environmental information, such as the EPA Toxic Release Inventory, this information will be valuable to corporate leaders, government policy makers, investors, and the public as they determine our clean air policies. Government decision makers, electric utility executives, investors and the public should use this information to improve the nation's air quality. Government will use this information to determine appropriate energy and environmental policy. Environmentally responsible corporate citizens will use this information to improve their own environmental report card. Investors will use it to invest in responsible corporate citizens, and consumers can use it to judge the companies that operate in their neighborhoods."

There are a number of proposals now being debated that would reduce power plant air emissions. In mid-February President Bush proposed a new power plant emissions reduction program for mercury, NOx and SO2, with a separate, voluntary reduction program for CO2. A "four-pollutant" bill sponsored by Senator James Jeffords (I-VT) proposes required reduction programs for all four pollutants, including CO2. PSEG, along with other members of an industry coalition called the Clean Energy Group, also is advocating a comprehensive, four-pollutant proposal for federal legislation.

At the same time, the EPA is considering proposals that would substantially revise or eliminate the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act that require utilities and other emitting industries to update pollution prevention equipment when doing major facility modifications. Federal legislators are also considering proposals for comprehensive energy legislation, renewable energy portfolio standards, and efficiency standards.

The report provides context to the internal debate within the electric industry on how best to balance business interests while delivering needed emission reductions. A number of companies, including PSEG, are advocating uniform, national emission standards for NOx, SO2, mercury, and CO2, hoping to create a more certain climate for investment in capital equipment or asset acquisition without compromising timely progress toward clean air.

Mark Brownstein, PSEG Director of Environmental Policy and Strategy, stressed the importance of the availability of comparative emissions information to companies seeking to improve corporate environmental performance: "This information helps us understand how our environmental performance compares to our competitors. Frankly, some of the data in the report convinced us that we have work to do, and was a factor in our decision to make significant additional environmental investments in our coal units in New Jersey."

"The high emission levels of many companies and the vast differences in emission rates among companies demonstrate the need for comprehensive power plant pollution clean up legislation," said Dan Lashof, science director of NRDC's Climate Center. "The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is currently considering the Clean Power Act, which would deliver the pollution reductions the public has a right to expect, while creating a level playing field for increasingly competitive electricity generators."

CERES plans to mail the report to the CEOs of all 100 companies named in the report, with an invitation to participate in a series of "utility dialogues" sponsored by CERES to discuss industry emissions reduction. The yearlong dialogue would include companies, investors, and environmental organizations, and would recommend financial incentives specifically to reduce CO2 emissions.

Robert Massie, executive director of CERES, explained investors' interest in the dialogues when he said, "In the wake of Enron, investors are anxious to have as much information as possible to help assess a company's worth and liability. Air pollutant emissions are one of the most measurable, relevant, and significant indicators of risk for this particular industry, while climate change could pose the single most devastating economic impact economy-wide. We know these emissions are harmful, and we can require their elimination over time in a way that's fair to the entire industry. This is the piece of the puzzle that's been missing."

Key Findings

The Benchmarking report compares the top 100 electric generating companies, whose 1,900 plants make 90 percent of U.S. electricity (and produce 90 percent of total emissions). They are ranked by total emission levels, and benchmarked according to emission rates relative to electricity produced.

  • Four companies had more than twice the average rate of NOx emissions, and eight companies had more than twice the average SO2 emissions rate; 19 companies had CO2 emission rates that are less than half the average.
  • Looking just at coal-fired plants, some companies had NOx emission rates twice as high as others, while SO2 emissions varied by a factor of four. The worst CO2 emissions rate was 34 percent higher than the best.
  • Coal plants produce half of America's electricity, but 90 percent of the electric industry's total pollution.
  • U.S. power plants produce fully 10 percent of the world's total manmade carbon dioxide emissions. CO2 emissions from the electric industry rose 26.5 percent from 1990 to 2000 -- 70 percent faster than the overall U.S. CO2 growth rate.
  • Seventy percent of U.S. electricity comes from fossil-fuel plants (coal, natural gas, oil), but pollution emissions from fossil fuel plants vary greatly. For example:
    • Keyspan Electric's fossil fuel NOx emissions are 2.2 pounds per megawatt hour; Tampa Electric's emissions are 7.08 pounds -- a three-fold difference.
    • Calpine's fossil CO2 emissions rate is half that of American Electric Power (AEP).
    • Entergy emits 3.3 pounds of SO2 per megawatt hour generated in its fossil fuel plants; Cinergy produces a whopping 18 pounds -- a five-fold difference.
  • The three largest electric generating companies -- AEP, Southern Company and Tennessee Valley Authority -- together accounted for between 17 and 24 percent of the pollution in each category.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related Websites
Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Generation Owners in the U.S. - 2000