Arizona Power Plants Among America’s Dirtiest

Kevin Hengehold September 13, 2013 0

Power plants in America are responsible for a majority of its greenhouse gas emissions.  That seems reasonable – it’s where we burn most of our fossil fuels.

But did you know that the fifty dirtiest power plants pollute more than every nation on the planet except six?

Environment Arizona’s stunning new report, America’s Dirtiest Power Plants  lays out the looming carbon problem in our own backyard.

coal pollution by country

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Pollution Emitted by the 50 Dirtiest Power Plants Compared to CO2 Pollution in Other Countries (MMT)

For those concerned with mitigating the impacts of climate change, decreasing carbon dioxide emissions is a major focus.  CO2 is the leading greenhouse gas driving global warming, and power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide pollution in the United States.  Burning fossil fuels for electricity generation produced about 41 percent of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2011.

Although these numbers are daunting, it is important to note that a disproportionate share of these power-sector carbon dioxide emissions come from a small subset of the nation’s dirtiest power plants, particularly coal-fired power plants.

To break it down: of the nearly 6,000 power plants in the US, the fifty dirtiest plants are responsible for 30% of all US power-sector emissions of CO2 and 2% of the whole world’s total energy-related emissions.  The 100 dirtiest plants were responsible for about half of total carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. electricity sector in 2011, and more than 3% of total worldwide emissions from energy use. 90% of all US energy-related emissions come from only 500 power plants, leaving the remaining 5,500 to account for a scant 10% of discharges.

total carbon emissions

Arizona ranks 14th in the country for most carbon pollution from its power plants.  57% of the state’s emissions come from power plants; of those, 46% of these emissions are expelled from the top five emitting plants.  Of those plants, Navajo Generating Station (NGS) is the worst offender, ranking tenth nationwide on the list of most polluting power plants. NGS is operated by Salt River Project, and hearings regarding the haze pollution it spews into the Grand Canyon are tentatively scheduled to occur in the next few months.

However, despite their enormous contribution to global warming, U.S. power plants currently face no federal limits on carbon dioxide pollution. Cleaning up these dirty power plants with strong, nationwide pollution standards is one of the most important actions the U.S. can take to curb global warming pollution.  A first step for the Obama administration  is simply meeting its September 2013 deadline for re-proposing a stringent emissions standard for new power plants.  New plant regulations are expected to be proposed in 2014 and finalized by June 2015.  The eyes of the nation will be trained as these events unfold, revealing exactly how serious the Obama administration really is about addressing the greatest environmental threat of our time.

But not everything is hand-wringing and waiting.  Retrofits and energy efficiency upgrades provide excellent ways for individuals to decrease their carbon footprint while saving money at the same time, and adding solar to a home or business is a great chance to take part in the clean energy revolution.