SCRANTON — A Philadelphia environmental advocacy group has identified 50 U.S. power plants as the most prolific carbon dioxide polluters worldwide — and Pennsylvania has some of the worst offenders.
According to a report released Tuesday by PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, the state’s power plants are the third largest contributors to these emissions after the ones in Texas and California. Overall, the country’s 50 heaviest carbon dioxide emitters send up 2 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide that is a byproduct of electricity generation.
PennEnvironment researchers looked at the more than 6,000 power plants in the United States and found, in 2011, 50 of those power plants produced 30 percent of total carbon emissions.
The report, called “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants,” points to the United States as the second greatest contributor to carbon emissions worldwide, pumping about 5,250 million metric tons (mmt) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. China emits about 9,750 mmt. India ranks third, contributing 2,000 mmt to the annual global share of carbon emissions, according to the report.
The report showed the country’s heaviest carbon-emitting coal-fired plant is the Scherer Power Plant in Georgia, which pushed out 21.3 mmt in 2011.
Heavy trucks and afternoon traffic along Lackawanna Avenue in Scranton muffled Elowyn Corby’s voice as she spoke at a press conference Tuesday in front of U.S. Sen. Robert Casey’s office. Corby, PennEnvironment’s Global Warming and Clean Energy Associate, said motor vehicles still double power plants’ emissions. The report notes that, to reduce the threat of global warming, a comprehensive emissions policy should encourage alternative vehicle fuel as well.
Corby prefaced her speech by saying that in the last two years uncanny weather patterns only point to an increasing global temperature, and PennEnvironment contends greenhouse gas emissions cause this collective warming.
“Scientists predict that extreme weather events will become more frequent and severe for future generations, unless we act now to cut the pollution that is fueling the problem,” Corby said in a prepared statement. “America’s dirtiest power plants are the elephant in the room when it comes to global warming.”
Evidence of climate change became real this year by way of hot spells and flash flooding in the state, and we’re approaching the one-year anniversary mark for Hurricane Sandy, which struck the New York/New Jersey coastline last October, Corby said. These meteorological oddities are all symptoms of human-assisted global warming, she said.
Corby called for legislators to tighten controls on emissions for old coal-fired power plants and better construction standards for new plants. He said they chose to speak at Casey’s office because he is in a good place to support President Barack Obama’s power-plant control efforts as legislators and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are moving to set new standards for old and planned power plants this year.
“(Casey) has yet to come out in support of President Obama’s plan to limit pollution from existing and future power plants,” Corby said. “We hope that the senator will be able to take a strong stance on climate in the future. We want him to be a champion for the climate.”
In an email message, a spokesman for Casey said the senator believes the energy issue calls for balance.
“Pennsylvania is one of the country’s top energy producers and (Casey) believes that our state can lead the way in reducing our reliance on foreign oil and promoting clean energy,” the statement said.
Casey believes the nation’s energy portfolio should be diverse, including both renewable and fossil-based fuels, but he recognizes the importance of green power, the statement said.
“Developing cleaner energies will boost our economy and reduce carbon emissions,” the statement said.
Bernard McGurl, Lackawanna River Corridor Association’s executive director, backed Corby’s efforts to get legislators moving toward stricter policies, and he also urged them to seek alternative power sources.
“There’s newer technologies that are available — wind power, solar power and a variety of natural gas and clean coal — that are much more efficient and have … reduced emissions of carbon dioxide,” McGurl said.
But Corby rejected natural gas as an alternative, saying PennEnvironment is not in favor of exploration because of its contested side effects.
“Just looking how it’s produced and how its transported, often (leaking methane) gas along the way, completely nullifies any advantage we would expect to see in terms of global warming pollution, so we don’t think natural gas is a solution,” Corby said.