50 Dirtiest U.S. Power Plants Produce
Little Power, Much Pollution
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.
By Environmental Integrity Project
Published May 12, 2005
The American electric utility industry has a dirty secret:
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).
And as the new EIP study entitled "Dirty Kilowatts"
makes clear, 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
"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
* 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.