US power stations emitting billions of tons of pollution

The dirtiest US power stations emit more than two billion tons of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2) and mercury each year, according to a new report.


Between them, 594 of the US’ most polluting power stations emitted 12.5 million tons of SO2, 5.4 million tons of NOx and 2.3 billion tons of CO2 in 1999. They also emitted 91,422 pounds (41,505kg) of mercury in 1998. Southern Company, based in Atlanta, Georgia emitted more SO2, NOx, mercury and CO2 than any other power company, the report says.

The publication of the report by the US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) and the Clear the Air campaign, coincided with the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee’s hearing on electric industry deregulation. The groups have expressed support for Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT) who is promoting new legislation designed to clean up the US power industry.

US PIRG and Clear the Air view Jeffords’ Clean Energy Act – and the Clean Smokestacks Act – as a potential solution to the power station pollution problem. The Clean Energy Act is currently under discussion by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Last week, a group of US senators representing northeastern states demanded that the US EPA continues with plans to reduce NOx levels from power stations in other regions. The group asked EPA Administrator Carol Browner to reject requests by the electric industry to delay implementation of the Agency’s rule governing emissions of NOx. (see related story).

However, two Republican senators are planning to introduce legislation requiring the EPA to conduct risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis before setting new clean-air standards. Environmentalists say the measures, which have already been promoted by US industry groups, could reduce the effectiveness of US air pollution laws (see related story)

The EPA is in the process of suing seven Midwest and Southern utilities in order to force them to install appropriate air pollution-control technology at 17 ageing power stations (see related story).

Carmen Lopez, co-author of the report, told edie that the amount of pollution from old power stations has gone up by 16% since 1992, the beginning of wholesale energy deregulation.

“Now the Senate is working to deregulate the retail side. We expect to see another increase in pollution as this goes ahead because these old stations are cheaper to run and so are used more. We want to make sure that any Bill that goes through the Senate has an environmental provision that takes responsibility for the effects of deregulation on the population as a whole.”

” The 594 plants identified in the report are taking advantage of loopholes in the Clean Air Act which allow older plants to emit as much as ten times more nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide than may be emitted by newer plants and allow power plants to emit unlimited quantities of mercury and carbon dioxide,” said Rebecca Stanfield, Staff Attorney for US PIRG. “Any federal bill to deregulate this industry must include strong standards to dramatically reduce this pollution.”

The report found that the 594 power stations emitted:

  • 12.5 million tons of sulphur dioxide (SO2) in 1999. The report claims that 75% (9.4 million tons) of the SO2 from these power stations would be eliminated if the power stations were required to adhere to modern pollution standards
  • 5.4 million tons of nitrogen oxide pollution (NOx) in 1999. If the power stations were required to adhere to modern pollution standards, 3.6 million tonnes of NOx (66%) would be eliminated, the report claims
  • 2.3 billion tons of CO2, which was the leading cause of global warming in 1999. This is roughly 38% of the CO2 emitted in the US from all sources
  • An estimated 91,422 pounds (41505kg) of mercury in 1998. This is roughly 32% of the mercury emitted in the US from all sources

The report also ranks the 100 worst power stations, the 12 worst companies and each state based on total emissions.

  • Southern Company, based in Atlanta, Georgia emitted more SO2, NOx, mercury and CO2 than any other company
  • states with the highest power plant SO2 pollution in 1999 were: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Florida, Illinois, Texas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia. The single plant with the highest SO2 emissions was the Baldwin plant in Illinois, operated by Illinois Power
  • states with the highest power plant NOx pollution in 1999 were: Ohio, Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Missouri. The single plant with the highest NOx emissions was the Paradise plant in Kentucky, operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority
  • states with the highest estimated power plant mercury emissions in 1998 were: Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Alabama, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Michigan. The single plant with the highest mercury emissions in 1998 was the Keystone Plant in Pennsylvania, operated by Pennsylvania Electric Company
  • states with the highest power plant CO2 emissions in 1999 were: Texas, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, Alabama and Georgia. The single plant with the highest CO2 emissions in 1999 was the Scherer plant in Georgia, operated by Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company

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