A new report shows evidence that economic growth is decoupling from carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions in a majority of American states. Authored by sustainability groups Ceres and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), along with Bank of America and four of the largest U.S. power plant operators, the research shows 42 of 50 states decreased emissions from power plants from 2008-2013, totaling a nationwide decrease of 12 percent.
The report, the 11th edition of the Benchmarking Air Emissions series, debunks the fossil fuel industry’s inaccurate, longtime assertion that regulating emissions will constrain growth and eliminate jobs. Even as the nation climbed out of economic recession, carbon emissions from the 100 largest electric power producers, representing 85 percent of the electric power generated in the U.S. and 87 percent of the industry’s air emissions, decreased by an average of 19 percent. Reductions were due to better pollution controls at coal power plants, less energy demand and the increased availability of cost-effective alternatives to coal.
While emissions trended downward, authors found high variance across producers and states. Carbon emission rates - the carbon intensity of a power provider’s fuel mix - varied 10-fold among the top 100 producers, from a high of 2,264 lb/MWh, to 200 lb/MWh. State emissions also varied widely, from 2,000 lb/MWh in Kentucky, Wyoming, and West Virginia to 200-300 lb/MWh in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, based in part on their existing hydroelectric generation.
“Most parts of the country are firmly on the path toward a clean energy future, but some states and utilities have a longer way to go and overall the carbon emissions curve is still not bending fast enough,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres. “To level the playing field for all utilities, and achieve the broader CO2 emissions cuts needed to combat climate change, we need final adoption of the Clean Power Plan.”
The EPA is weeks away from issuing its final Clean Power Plan rule, which is expected to reduce CO2 emissions from the electric power sector by 30 percent nationwide below a 2005 baseline before 2030.
“The nation’s power plants remain the largest source of carbon pollution and we can’t wait any longer to stem this growing danger to our health and economy,” said David Hawkins, Director of Climate Programs at NRDC. “The good news is that America’s utilities are on a path to achieve the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and its major carbon pollution reductions. We need it now to secure cleaner energy, better health and a safer future.”
Industry representatives involved in the study expressed their commitment to this achievement.
“PSEG is proud to be part of the progress that has been made to reduce New Jersey power plant emissions,” said Geraldine A. Smith, General Environmental Counsel Managing Director of Environment at PSEG. “PSEG has made energy efficiency a key component of our clean energy strategy. That is why we are investing almost $400 million in energy efficiency programs and want to invest more.”
“Calpine has long been at the forefront of emissions reductions and has historically been the lowest-emitting fossil-fueled generator. Our increasing reduction in emissions year over year, while increasing our generation, demonstrates this commitment,” said Derek Furstenwerth, Senior Director of Environmental Services at Calpine.