America reduces energy-sector pollution, but room for improvement still

Rarely, it seems, the news is of a positive nature as it has to do with air pollution and the energy sector. But, there are times when news in this regard is encouraging. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) “New Report: U.S. Power Sector Continues to Reduce Air Pollution Emissions in Advance of EPA’s Clean Power Plan” press release is a case in point.

Coal_bituminous[1]“The most comprehensive analysis to date on U.S. power plant air pollution emissions shows that most of the nation’s largest electric utilities have seen significant reductions in global warming pollution in recent years,” the NRDC in the release insisted. “The report’s release comes as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepares to finalize the Clean Power Plan to further reduce that pollution.

“The new report, which examines carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and mercury emissions from the nation’s 100 largest electric power producers, found that CO2 emissions from power plants decreased 12 percent from 2008 through 2013, and that the economy has continued to grow even as CO2 emissions have declined,” the NRDC reported.

Imagine that: economic gain and pollution loss. So, just what was the impetus behind the decline in the named pollutant emissions?

Several key findings of the Benchmarking Air Emissions report:

  • “SO2 and NOx emissions in 2013 were 80 percent and 74 percent lower, respectively, than they were in 1990, when major amendments to the Clean Air Act were passed.
  • “Mercury emissions have decreased 50 percent since 2000, when the industry was first required to report their mercury emissions to EPA.
  • “The utilization, or capacity factors, of coal plants continues to decline relative to natural gas plants, with coal plants’ average utilization rates declining from 73 to 61 percent, and natural gas plants increasing their utilization from 40 to 48 percent between 2008 and 2014.”

The ongoing power-sector shift is but one of a handful of contributing factors.

Meanwhile, one of the expectations of the Clean Power Plan for electric-power-sector-generation-CO2-emissions reduction is by 2030 to be at a level 30 percent below a 2005 baseline, added the NRDC.

About the report

“The report is the 11th in a series since 1997 highlighting environmental improvements and progress in the nation’s electric sector. The 100 power producers evaluated in the report represent 85 percent of the electric power generated in the U.S. and 87 percent of the industry’s air emissions. Based on 2013 generation and emissions data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and EPA, the report is a collaborative effort between Ceres, Bank of America, four power producers (Calpine, Entergy, Exelon, and Public Service Enterprise Group), and the Natural Resources Defense Council,” mentioned the NRDC in the press release in question.

For more information on the Clean Power Plan, see: “Clean Power Plan a noble idea, its implementation anything but guaranteed” and “The Clean Power Plan: Boom or bust?”

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