A report issued Tuesday by Environment America Research & Policy Center, an independent nonprofit organization, singles out the 100 dirtiest power plants in the U.S.—less than 2% of the country's 6,000 power stations—as producing a full 20% of all American carbon emissions. Almost all (98) burn coal to generate electricity.
Phasing out our dirtiest power plants could reduce climate change
Cleaning up only half of the worst offenders could lower greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, reducing the swing toward climate change. "It doesn’t take a trip to the Arctic Circle to see evidence of global warming these days," say the report's authors, Jordan Schneider and Travis Madsen of Frontier Group and Environment America's Julian Boggs.
They point out that scientists increasingly link the frequency and severity of heavy rains and intense heat waves to climate change. "A warmer world is likely to exacerbate the impacts of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, drought, and wildfires," the new report says.
Many of the extreme weather events of 2012 reveal the chaos likely to emerge in the future:
- “Superstorm” Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc on the East Coast,
- Early and especially intense wildfires destroying thousands of homes in the West, and
- Year-round drought conditions parching the largest area of the continental U.S. since 1956.
Our top 50 polluting generators—all coal-fired—account for 2% of the world's annual energy-related carbon pollution. Emissions from these 50 American plants equal the pollution contributed by half the nation's 240 million cars.
EPA emission standards expected soon
In March, the Environmental Protection Agency suggested limiting carbon production by new plants to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of energy. (The dirtiest existing plants produce three times this much.) EPA will issue proposed official emissions standards for new power plants later this month.
Even if the new standards only reduce allowable emissions by a third, the report states, it's unlikely that new coal plants will be able to meet them. By June next year, the agency expects to propose standards for existing plants. These rules will be finalized in 2015.
Award-winning science writer Sandy Dechert covers environmental, health, and energy policy and issues. She has reported extensively on climate change, extreme weather disasters, including superstorm Sandy, the 2012-2013 drought, and the massive summer wildfires of the past decade. She also detailed events and policy at last fall's 18th UN climate change summit meeting in Doha, Qatar.
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