New Report Exposes Worst Plants on Sulfur Dioxide, Mercury, Nitrogen Oxide, CO2 Pollution; Needless Pollution Linked to 20,000 Premature Deaths, Fetal Damage and Global Warming.
The 50 dirtiest among the nation's 359 largest power plants generate as little as 14 percent of the electric power - but account for a disproportionately large share of pollution emissions across four major categories: up to 50 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 42 percent of mercury, 40 percent of nitrogen oxides, and 35 percent of carbon dioxide pollution, according to a major new report from the nonprofit and nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).
Most of the ill health and environmental harms arising from America's dirtiest power plants are avoidable. Currently available and affordable technologies could remove the vast majority of the pollutants in question - reducing the amount of air pollution per megawatt hour by more than 20 times in one major emission category: sulfur dioxide. According to the EIP report, the 50 dirtiest U.S. power plants averaged 22.8 pounds of sulfur dioxide emissions per megawatt-hour, compared to an average of 8.3 pounds per megawatt-hour among all of the nation's 359 largest plants, and under one pound per megawatt-hour for plants equipped with state-of-the-art scrubber technologies.
The 10 states with the heaviest concentrations of the dirtiest power plants - in terms of pounds of sulfur dioxide emissions per megawatt hour of electricity generated - are: Pennsylvania (nine, including five of the 10 dirtiest plants); Ohio (nine); Indiana, (six, including two of the top three dirtiest plants); Georgia (four); Maryland (three); Kentucky (three); Alabama (three); New York (two); Tennessee (two); and West Virginia (two). The "Dirty Kilowatts" report also ranks the worst power plants for carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury, looking at all four pollutants both in terms of total pounds of emissions and also emission rate (pounds per megawatt-hour of electricity produced). Plants in Texas, Georgia, Minnesota, New Mexico, and North Dakota top these additional rankings.
Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer said: "The real tragedy for the health of Americans and our environment is that most of this problem is already preventable. A huge share of these emissions comes from a handful of unnecessarily dirty power plants that have not yet installed modern pollution controls, or which operate inefficiently. Power plant sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions contribute to fine particle pollution that triggers asthma attacks and causes lung and heart disease linked to more than 20,000 premature deaths a year. Carbon dioxide gases contribute to the gradual warming of the planet. Mercury from power plant is a deadly neurotoxin, especially dangerous to developing fetuses and already estimated to be at unhealthy levels in at least 10 percent of pregnant women."
Charles McPhedran, senior attorney, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), said: "Pennsylvania plants are once again near the top of the air pollution most wanted list. Maybe we need some new 'most wanted' pictures hanging up in our post offices - pictures of the Hatfield's Ferry, Homer City and Keystone plants, wanted for endangering our health."
"It's time we start asking ourselves how much we're really willing to pay for dirty electricity," said Bruce Nilles of Sierra Club's Great Lakes Clean Air Program. "Plants in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are among the nation's worst sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide polluters, and that translates to asthma attacks, lost school and work days, and emergency room visits. These health costs are avoidable if power companies step up and install modern pollution controls."
Tom "Smitty" Smith, director, Public Citizen Texas Office, Austin, TX., said: "This new data shows exactly why it's time to clean up coal-burning power plants. We can meet our energy needs without poisoning our children. By any measure, electric utility companies in the Lone Star State are among the worst polluters in the country, especially when it comes to toxic mercury and global warming gases. There are cleaner alternatives to the death and disease from dirty power plants."
"The fact that Maryland, a small state, makes the 'Top 10' in the list of the nation's dirtiest power plants shows we can do much more in-state to fix this problem. Yet, the legislative fix to reduce pollution like this in Maryland failed last session." said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Scientist Dr. Beth McGee. "This report underscores the need to control pollution from in-state sources in order to reduce the damage being done to human health, and the health of our rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay."
KEY REPORT FINDINGS
The EIP report identifies the 50 worst power plant polluters for sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2), and mercury, ranked according to emissions rate (the amount of pollution per megawatt-hour of electricity generated) and the total annual amount of each pollutant emitted. The report is based on the latest available EPA and other federal data. The top 50 rankings for SO2, NOx, and CO2 include only the 359 largest plants (i.e. those that generated at least 2 million megawatt hours in 2004) for which emissions and net generation data is publicly available. Roughly three out four of these plants (73 percent) reported coal as their primary fuel source in 2004. Mercury rankings are based on the most current (2002) public data from EPA's Toxics Release Inventory.
Key report findings include the following:
* Sulfur dioxide - pollution per megawatt hour. Of the 359 plants ranked, the top 50 plants with the worst emission rates accounted for 38 percent of SO2 emissions, but only 14 percent of electric generation. Alcoa's Warrick plant in Indiana claimed the top spot, generating just over 46 pounds of sulfur dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity (compared to an 8.3 pound average among the top 359 plants). Louisville Gas and Electric's Coleman plant came in second, with just over 40 pounds of SO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity. Five of the top 10 plants with the worst SO2 emission rates are in Pennsylvania.
* Sulfur dioxide - tons of pollution. Of the 359 plants ranked, the top 50 plants with the highest emissions accounted for 4.5 million tons, or approximately half of SO2 emissions, but only 25 percent of electric generation. Reliant's Keystone plant in Pennsylvania led the way, with 171,000 tons, followed closely by Southern Company's Bowen plant in Georgia, with nearly 166,000 tons. Pennsylvania was home to four of the top 10 highest emitters, and Ohio had three of the top 10. American Electric Power's Muskingum River plant ranks in the top 10 for both emission rate and total tons. Pennsylvania plants also rank high for both total SO2 output and emission rates, with Allegheny Energy's Hatfield's Ferry and Reliant's Keystone power plants making the top 10 in both lists.
* Nitrogen oxides - pollution per megawatt hour. The top 50 plants had an average emission rate of 5.8 pounds of NOx per megawatt-hour, almost double the 3.0 pounds per megawatt-hour average emission rate for all 359 of the nation's largest power plants. Of the 359 plants ranked, the top 50 accounted for 26 percent of all NOx emissions but only 14 percent of net electric generation. Northern State's Riverside (Minnesota) and Minnkota's Milton Young (North Dakota) power plants claimed the top two spots, with emission rates of just over 11 and just under 10 pounds of NOx per megawatt-hour, respectively. Electric utilities do not reduce NOx emissions unless they are required to do so: many plants in the top 50, including seven out of the top 10, are in states with less stringent NOx emission limits because they do not fall under the "NOx SIP call," a federal rule designed to reduce summertime ozone in eastern states (NOx is a precursor to ground-level ozone).
* Nitrogen oxides - tons of pollution. Of the 359 plants ranked, the top 50 accounted for 1.3 million tons of NOx, or 40 percent of emissions, but only 29 percent of net electricity generation. Arizona Public Service Company's Four Corners plant and American Electric Power's Gavin plant (Ohio), topped the list, emitting more than 40,000 tons of NOx apiece.
* Carbon dioxide - pollution per megawatt hour. The 359 plants ranked had an average CO2 emission rate of approximately 1,970 pounds per megawatt-hour, while the average emission rate for the top 50 plants was approximately 2,500 pounds per megawatt hour. AEP's Coleto Creek (Texas) plant topped the list, with an emission rate of more than 4,500 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, followed by Alcoa's Warrick (Indiana) plant, with an emission rate of almost 3,000 pounds per megawatt hour. Five large lignite-burning North Dakota power plants rank in the top 25. Lignite is abundant in places like Texas and North Dakota, but has a comparatively low BTU (heat) value, which means more CO2 for the electricity it generates.
* Carbon dioxide - tons of pollution. Because CO2 is not federally regulated, power plants do not control emissions. A strong correlation exists between net generation and total emissions. The largest fossil fuel fired plants typically have the highest CO2 emissions, and the top 50 emitters account for 35 percent of total tons of CO2 emitted and 33 percent of net generation from all plants.
* Mercury - pollution per-megawatt hour. Based on EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) for 2002 (the most current publicly available mercury emissions data), the top 50 plants with the highest emission rates emitted 30 percent of all power plant mercury pollution, but generated only about 14 percent of the electricity. Texas and Pennsylvania power plants topped the list for the highest mercury emission rates. AEP's Pirkey plant (Texas) and Reliant's Shawville plant (Pennsylvania) are the top two dirtiest plants based on mercury emission rates.
* Mercury - tons of pollution. The top 50 power plant mercury polluters accounted for 42 percent (19.06 tons) of all mercury emissions in the TRI, but generated only about 29 percent of the electricity. Reliant's Limestone (Texas) plant emitted 1,800 pounds of mercury, far more than any other power plant. TXU's Monticello (Texas) plant and AEP's Conesville (Ohio) plant came in second and third, emitting 1,324 and 1,300 pounds, respectively. A total of 23 plants in 14 states ranked in the top 50 for both emission rate and total pounds emitted. Six Texas power plants appear on both lists. Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and Wisconsin each had two plants on both top 50 lists. Two AEP plants, Pirkey (Texas) and Conesville (Ohio), and Reliant's Limestone (Texas) plant, are in the top 10 for both emission rate and total pounds.
* SO2 and NOx health effects. Sulfates and nitrates (from SO2 and NOx) are major components of the fine particle pollution that plagues many parts of the country, especially those communities nearby and directly downwind of coal-fired power plants. Harvard School of Public Health studies have shown that SO2 emissions from power plants significantly harm the cardiovascular and respiratory health of people who live near the plants. According to EPA studies, fine particle pollution from power plants causes more than 20,000 premature deaths a year. Ground-level ozone, which is especially harmful to children and people with respiratory problems such as asthma, is formed when NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react in sunlight.
* Mercury health effects. Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury air pollution, accounting for roughly 40 percent of all mercury emissions nationwide. Mercury is a highly toxic metal that, once released into the atmosphere, settles in lakes and rivers, where it moves up the food chain to humans. In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control found that roughly 10 percent of American women carry mercury concentrations at levels considered to put a fetus at risk for neurological damage.
* SO2 and NOx environmental effects. Sulfur dioxide and NOx form acid rain, which damages forests, and acidifies soil and waterways. NOx also increases nitrogen loading in water bodies, especially in sensitive coastal estuaries. According to EPA, NOx emissions are one of the largest sources of nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
* CO2 (greenhouse gas) environmental effects. Carbon dioxide, one of several greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), wood, and solid waste are burned. Power plants are responsible for at least 35 percent of all man-made CO2 emissions in the U.S., and unlike emissions of SO2 and NOx (which are federally regulated) the electric power industry's CO2 emissions are steadily rising.