RESOURCE: The 100 most polluting power plants in the U.S.

Media Contacts
Morgan Hayward

Former Director, Destination: Zero Carbon, Environment America Research & Policy Center

PHILADELPHIA – Ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision on West Virginia vs Environmental Protection Agency, a case that will determine the EPA’s authority to regulate climate pollution, Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund are releasing a new factsheet ranking America’s dirtiest power plants. Though increased renewable energy generation has led to decreased emissions from the power sector, more than 3,400 fossil-fuel power plants are still contaminating American skies and contributing to climate change. 

The new factsheet ranks U.S. power plants by their contribution to climate change based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest eGRID data. The dirtiest power plants have an outsized impact: In 2020, the 100 most climate-polluting plants were responsible for 44% of global warming emissions from the power sector despite only generating 19% of total electricity.

“Our changing climate affects every aspect of our lives, from the air we breathe to the food we grow in the communities we call home,” said Morgan Folger, Destination: Zero Carbon campaign director with Environment America Research & Policy Center and author of the factsheet. “Dirty power plants threaten our health and the climate, yet these super-polluters have filled the skies with pollution for decades without consequence. We need to hold the worst power plants accountable for damaging our climate.”

Coal-fired power plants made up the majority of the 100 dirtiest power plants, but methane gas-fired plants are also major contributors to climate change. New research on methane leaks finds that the emissions associated with extracting and transporting methane are a serious climate problem. Though burning methane gas releases less carbon dioxide than burning coal, 14 gas-fired plants still make the list of top polluters. 

“Methane gas is a damaging fossil fuel that puts our communities, health and climate at risk,” said Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s environment campaigns director. “That this many gas-fired power plants made the list of top 100 polluters is telling: It’s time to end our reliance on fossil fuels and move toward a cleaner, safer and healthier future.”

To get power plant pollution under control, the factsheet recommends limiting emissions from power plants and accelerating America’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The EPA is expected to work on several power plant rules this year, including the proposed Good Neighbor plan, which would require states to clean up air pollution that travels across state lines. A Supreme Court ruling expected this June, West Virginia vs Environmental Protection Agency, could hamstring the EPA’s ability to set limits on carbon emissions from power plants.

“We can repower our country more cleanly and safely with renewable energy by shutting down or repurposing the worst-polluting offenders,” said Folger. “But we can’t expect coal and gas companies to volunteer to turn off their fountains of emissions — and profits. Because of that, the EPA should take swift action to limit carbon pollution from the dirtiest power plants.”