New Report: Power Plants Emit Three Times the Pollution of All the Nation’s Cars

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Nathan Willcox

Environment America

Washington, DC — The nation’s power plants emitted 2.56 billion tons of global warming pollution in 2007, which is equivalent to the pollution from nearly 450 million of today’s cars – nearly three times the number of cars registered in the United States in 2007, according to a new analysis of government data released today by Environment America.  More than 70 percent of this pollution came from plants – primarily coal plants – built before 1980. 

“It’s time for the oldest and dirtiest power plants to clean up their act,” said Environment America Global Warming Associate Courtney Abrams.  “Coal-fired giants have dominated our electricity for decades and have been allowed to pollute without license.  In order to stop global warming and reap all the benefits of clean energy, we must require old coal-fired clunkers to meet modern standards for global warming pollution.”

Coal is the dirtiest of all fuels, but it supplies more of America’s electricity than any other source.  Coal plants currently do not have to meet any global warming pollution standard, meaning that they are an unchecked contributor to global warming.  In fact, coal plants are the nation’s single largest source of global warming pollution.  

The new report, America’s Biggest Polluters: Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Power Plants in 2007, was released  nationally and in 22 states today.  The report looks at carbon dioxide emissions from power plants across the country using 2007 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; 2007 is the most recent year for which final data is available.  The report examines both age of and pollution from power plants to document the fact that we are reliant on an energy infrastructure that is both old and polluting.  The key findings include the following for 2007:

  • U.S. power plants released 2.56 billion tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the amount produced by 449 million of today’s cars – that’s more than three times the number of passenger cars registered in the United States in 2007. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for a disproportionate amount of this pollution – though coal produced two-thirds of U.S. fossil fuel electricity, coal plants emitted over 80 percent of fossil fuel global warming pollution.  Coal plants emitted about one-third of the nation’s total global warming pollution.
  • Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, Texas, and Michigan are home to the most polluting power plants in the country.  Texas, Ohio, Florida, Indiana, and Pennsylvania ranked as the states with the most carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in 2007.
  • The oldest operating power plants in the country – located in Indiana, Wisconsin, New York, Iowa, and North Carolina – were built in the same decade that the television first became commercially available.  Many of the nation’s power plants are decades-old.  In fact, two-thirds of the electricity generated from fossil fuels in the United States in 2007 came from power plants built before 1980.    
  • Old and dirty tend go hand-in-hand.  Power plants built three decades ago or more produced 73 percent of the total global warming pollution from power plants in 2007. 

“America’s power is both decades-old and dangerously polluting.  We’re reliant on technology that’s as old as the very first commercially available televisions.  Televisions have gone from black-and-white clunkers to super high-definition flat screens, but they’re still powered by the same dirty electricity,” Abrams said.

“Clean energy holds the future of America—to make our nation energy independent, create millions of new jobs, and stop the worst effects of global warming.  In order to realize this clean energy future, coal plants must stop polluting with impunity,” continued Abrams.

The U.S. Senate is slated to consider legislation in the next few months to establish the first-ever federal limits on global warming pollution as well as standards and incentives for clean energy.  In addition, EPA has proposed a rule to require coal plants and other large smokestack industries to use available technology to cut their global warming pollution when new facilities are constructed or existing facilities are significantly modified. 

However, the coal industry is fighting the transition to clean energy.  The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry lobby group, spent nearly $40 million dollars in 2008 alone – more than $100,000 a day – on lobbyists and advertising, according to reports to the Internal Revenue Service this month.  Earlier this year, they hired lobbyists who forged phony constituent letters to Congress opposing action on clean energy.

“We urge the U.S. Senate to pass an energy bill that requires old, clunker coal plants to meet modern standards for global warming pollution so we can finally move to clean energy, like wind and solar power.  We also urge EPA to finalize its proposed rule to cut global warming pollution from dirty coal plants,” concluded Abrams.