New Report Shows Power Plant Emissions Down 10 Percent Due to Transition from Coal to Natural Gas

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Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant on the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River emits more mercury into the air than any other power plant in the country. It is also a source of fine particulate pollution and ozone, which cause the Ozone allergy or the Ozone Flu.

By Glynn Wilson

The transition from coal to natural gas in electric power generating plants across the United States has led to a 10 percent reduction in harmful emissions over the past two years alone, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The latest data from EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, required by the President and Congress in the effort to reduce climate change due to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels, shows a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions as more utilities switch to cleaner burning natural gas, according to the EPA press release announcing the report.

In the two years since reporting began, emissions from power plants decreased 10 percent due to a switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation and a slight decrease in electricity production, EPA says. Yet fossil-fuel fired power plants remain the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions with close to 1,600 facilities emitting more than 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, roughly 40 percent of total U.S. carbon pollution.

“EPA is supporting President Obama’s Climate Action Plan by providing the high-quality data necessary to help guide common-sense solutions to address climate change,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. “Putting this data in the hands of the public increases transparency, supports accountability and unlocks innovation.”

The Environmental Protection Agency released its third year of greenhouse gas data detailing carbon pollution emissions and trends broken down by industrial sector, greenhouse gas, geographic region and individual facility.

“Greenhouse gases emitted through human activities such as transportation and power generation are the primary driver of recent climate change, which threatens the health and welfare of Americans — by increasing the likelihood of hotter, longer heat waves, fueling more frequent and intense extreme weather events, and worsening ground level ozone, an air pollutant that causes respiratory and cardiovascular health problems,” the EPA says.

The reporting program, the only system that collects facility-level greenhouse gas data from major industrial sources across the U.S., collects greenhouse gas information from more than 8,000 facilities in the largest emitting industries, including power plants, oil and gas production and refining, iron and steel mills and landfills as well as data on the increasing production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) predominantly used in refrigeration and air-conditioning.

The data is accessible to the press and the public through EPA’s online data publication tool called FLIGHT, which is available for both desktop and mobile devices. With three years of data for most sources, FLIGHT has been updated with new features, including the ability to view trend graphs by sector and facility, and download charts and graphs for use in presentations and reports. The data are also published through EnviroFacts, which allows researchers to download data for further analyses.

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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