As Massachusetts Sees Global Warming Impacts First-hand, New Report Identifies Largest Carbon Polluters

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Environment Massachusetts

Springfield, Mass. As international leaders prepare for the United Nations Climate Summit next week in New York, Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center released a new study showing that power plants in the United States emit more carbon than the entire economy of Russia, Japan, or India. Environmental advocates, civic leaders, local residents, and farmers gathered in front of City Hall to voice their support for proposed federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

 “Across the state, people are hurting from the effects of global warming, and emissions from power plants are a big reason why,” said Ben Hellerstein, field organizer for Environment Massachusetts. “Our state and local officials are leading the way towards a clean energy future, and it’s time for the rest of the nation to follow our example.”

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the Clean Power Plan, which would create the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. If enacted, the Clean Power Plan would be the largest step the United States or any country has ever taken to cut global warming emissions. Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to adopt a similar policy to limit carbon pollution from power plants, in 2001.

The report, America’s Dirtiest Power Plants, comes as tens of thousands of activists and world leaders converge in New York City seeking solutions to climate change, which scientists have linked to a rise in severe weather events. In Massachusetts, extreme snow and rain storms have become 81% more frequent since 1948.

“I’ve seen how global warming has made it more difficult for my farm, and for farmers throughout the Pioneer Valley, to make a living from their land,” said Michael Docter of Winter Moon Farm in Hadley. “That’s why I installed solar panels on the roof of my barn, and I hope our elected officials support policies that will help more farmers, families, and businesses to go solar and reduce their carbon emissions.”

The report compares carbon emissions from U.S. power plants in 2012 to the total carbon emissions of entire countries, and argues that limiting pollution from power plants would make a significant impact on global warming. Key findings include:

  • If the United States’ fleet of coal- and gas-burning power plants were a country, it would be the 3rd-largest carbon polluter, behind the entire US and China.
  • U.S. power plants emit nearly as much carbon each year as the energy-related emissions of Canada, Mexico, and South America combined.
  • The EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan would reduce as much carbon pollution in 2030 as the entire country of Canada, the world’s 8th-largest polluter, emits today.

In recent years, Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas emissions have declined while the renewable energy sector has boomed. Massachusetts’ solar energy capacity has increased more than 150-fold since 2008, thanks to the SREC (Solar Renewable Energy Certification) program, net metering, and other state policies.

Cities such as Springfield and Holyoke have installed solar panels on schools, municipal buildings, former landfills, and other vacant parcels of land.

“Springfield has taken substantial steps to reduce its carbon footprint through a focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency,” said Councilor Michael Fenton, council president for the City of Springfield. “As City Council President, I am committed to helping Springfield build upon its record of leadership on global warming.”

Programs such as Solarize Massachusetts and the Agricultural Energy Grant Program have helped individual homeowners, businesses, and farmers to install solar panels on their property, cutting carbon emissions and reducing the state’s dependence on fossil fuel-burning power plants. In 2014, 932 residents and businesses in 15 communities — including Amherst, Chesterfield, Whately, and Williamsburg — participated in Solarize Massachusetts.

“We’re already living with the effects of climate change, and everyone is paying the price — but that’s especially true in cities like Springfield, and even more true for poor people,” said Michaelann Bewsee, executive director of Arise for Social Justice. “We need local, state, and national leaders to do everything in their power to cut carbon emissions and prevent the worst impacts of global warming, and not to approve new sources of pollution like the biomass incinerator we’re fighting in Springfield.”

Americans have submitted more than 6 million comments to EPA supporting limits on carbon pollution from power plants; and more than a thousand people testified in support of the Clean Power Plan at hearings held across the country this summer. Local elected officials, small businesses owners and dozens of members of Congress have all voiced support for limits on carbon pollution.

“In Massachusetts, we’ve made good progress in cutting our carbon emissions. But there are still a lot of big polluters out there,” Hellerstein said. “National limits on carbon pollution from power plants are the biggest step we can take to protect Massachusetts communities from the worst impacts of climate change. Let’s make sure the EPA takes this critical step as soon as possible.”