Power Plant Carbon Pollution Declined In 2011, EPA Report Says

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A new report released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that U.S. power plants have decreased the release of heat-trapping gases by 4.6 percent in 2011 by burning less coal.

What is the significance of this decrease? According to the EPA, power plants were responsible, in 2011, for 2.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. They further explain that power plans still rank as the largest source of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emitters that trigger global warming. As such, the decline seen in 2011 in use of coal—the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution—means that less greenhouse gases were produced.

The Associated Press shares:

Power plants produced roughly two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources, the EPA said, with petroleum and natural gas systems a distant second and refineries the third-largest carbon pollution source.

The annual report was the second produced by the EPA as it tracks global warming pollution by industry type and individual facility. The data include more than 8,000 facilities in nine industrial sectors that produced more than 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The report shows that greenhouse gas pollution is concentrated at large power plants, petroleum refineries and chemical plants. Just 4 percent of the sites analyzed were responsible for 57 percent of the reported pollution in 2011.

While this report goes to show that we are headed in the right direction, with lower emissions, there is still a long road ahead of us to completely eliminate the use of coal. And we’re not just talking on a domestic level, but on an international level.

As we recently reported, via Time Magazine, China is burning as much coal as the rest of the world is cumulatively burning. What’s the problem with this? Time reports: “Coal already accounts for 20% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, making it one of the biggest causes of man-made climate change. Combine that with the direct damage that air pollution from coal combustion does to human health, and there’s a reason why some have called coal the enemy of the human race.”

What’s more, a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that coal will be the leading energy source in the world by 2022 due to the demand from India and China.

“Coal’s share of the global energy mix continues to grow each year,” says IEA executive director Maria Van der Hoeven to BBC News. “If no changes are made to current policies, coal will catch oil within a decade.”

The report further predicts that the major changes will be even sooner—coal will catch up to oil by 2017 and China will account for more than half of the world’s consumption by 2014 while India will overtake the US in coal consumption. It has been forecasted that the US will be the only part of the world to reduce demand for coal.

The issue with this news is that coal is incredibly detrimental to the environment. The basic fact is this: Since the pre-industrial times, global temperatures have risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius. In order to prevent the dangerous and potentially devastating impacts of climate change, 200-some nations agreed in the 2010  United Nations climate talks to take measures that would limit the rise to below 2 degrees C (3.6° Fahrenheit). In fact, the IEA reported  earlier this year that the average global temperature could rise by 6 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100 if we do not step away from using coal.

  • Susmita Baral

    Susmita is a writer and editor in the Greater New York City area. In her spare time, Susmita enjoys cooking, traveling, dappling in photography, art history and interior design, and moonlighting as a therapist for her loved ones.

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