Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–As international leaders prepare for the United Nations Climate Summit next week in New York, a new study shows Pennsylvania’s coal-fired power plants dump as much carbon pollution into the atmosphere as the entire country of Chile. Environmental advocates, local elected officials, health officials, and faith leaders pointed to the data to support swift action on climate change and proposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants.
“When power plants here in Pennsylvania create as much pollution as an entire country, we know the climate is in trouble,” said Chloe Coffman, Field Associate for PennEnvironment, in Philadelphia. “It’s time to stop ignoring the nation’s largest global-warming polluters, and start investing in clean energy.”
The PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center report, America’s Dirtiest Power Plants, points towards the need for action amidst increasing evidence of the threats of climate change. “We need to stop releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as rapidly as possible,” said Neil Donahue, director of the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies at Carnegie Mellon University. “The science has been clear for more than 30 years and we have done nothing. It is time to take action.”
The report comes as more than a hundred thousand activists and world leaders converge in New York City seeking solutions to climate change. “With Pennsylvania power plants putting out as much pollution as many countries, we have to join our international leaders and fellow activists in acting now,” said Stephen Riccardi, Field Associate for PennEnvironment, in Johnstown.
The report also comes as the Environmental Protection Agency takes public comments on proposed, first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. If enacted, the limits would be the largest step the United States or any country has ever taken to cut global warming emissions.
"In Pennsylvania alone, the EPA's Clean Power Plan would prevent hundreds of premature deaths and tens of thousands of missed school and work days due to causes such as asthma attacks," said Kevin Stewart, Director of Environmental Health for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. "Among those at special risk include huge population groups such as infants, children, the elderly, and persons with asthma or chronic lung disease.”
State legislators have recently attacked the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, complicating efforts to cut this pollution. Under HB 2354, which has passed the House and awaits passage in the Pennsylvania Senate, it will be much harder for the state to develop an implementation plan that cuts the pollution highlighted in the report and grow the state’s renewable energy sector
"HB2354 takes control of developing a State Implementation Plan away from the experts at the DEP and puts it in the hands of elected officials,” said Representative and Democratic Environmental Committee Chair Greg Vitali. “We cannot delay the development and implementation of our SIP."
Despite attacks in the state legislature, local electeds are beginning to voice their support for the Clean Power Plan. Resolutions were recently introduced in Philadelphia and Pittsburg to demonstrate the cities’ support for the EPA’s limits on carbon pollution.
“We have reached a tipping point in our culture where citizens, especially young people, are demanding action on clean air, clean water and the reduction of our carbon footprint,” said Councilwoman Reynolds Brown, Chair of City Council’s Committee on the Environment. “I am proud to stand with President Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency, PennEnvironment, and all who care about building a greener planet in calling for the implementation of the Clean Power Plan.”
By comparing carbon emissions from U.S. power plants in 2012 to total carbon emissions of entire countries, the analysis shows why limiting pollution from coal plants would make such a big impact. Key findings include:
- If the United States’ fleet of coal- and gas-burning power plants were a country, it would be the 3rd-largest carbon polluter, behind the entire US and China.
- FirstGeneration Bruce Mansfield in Shippingsport is Pennsylvania’s largest global warming polluter, and is the 3rd greatest polluting plant in the country.
- Pennsylvania ranks 3nd for carbon pollution from power plants, which are responsible for 44% of the state’s total carbon emissions.
- The EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan would reduce as much carbon pollution by 2030 as the entire country of Canada, the world’s 8th largest polluter, emits today.
The Clean Power Plan would also spur investments in clean energy like wind and solar power, for which there is vast potential across the country and in Pennsylvania. The solar market in Pennsylvania has grown 16% in 2013 and could continue to expand rapidly under the Clean Power Plan. Public health and sustainability officials across the state pointed to the need for clean energy in Pennsylvania.
"We, as a region and as a nation, cannot continue to let energy policies threaten the wellbeing of Americans," said Teresa Mendez-Quigley, Physicians for Social Responsibility. "If we want a sick and ailing populace, we can do nothing. If we want to leave a legacy of hope for future generations, we must act now."
“Pittsburgh has made great strides toward improving our Carbon emissions seeing some of lowest levels in decades; but there's still work to be done,” said Aftyn Giles, Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Pittsburgh. “Despite our efforts, our region still has some of the highest emissions in the nation putting our families, businesses and environment at risk. Sustainability is a guiding principal of this administration as we commit to building a stronger and healthier future for Pittsburgh.”
Americans have submitted more than 6 million comments to EPA supporting limits on carbon pollution from power plants; and more than a thousand people testified in support of the Clean Power Plan at hearings held across the country this summer. Local elected officials, small businesses owners and dozens of members of Congress have all voiced support for limits on carbon pollution. This summer, PennEnvironment collected 28,500 comments from Pennsylvanians in support of the plan.
For many, the call to action on climate change comes from a sense of broad community and responsibility. “Our children and grandchildren will inherit the environmental problems we leave behind. It’s up to us to be a moral voice for protecting our most vulnerable neighbors and future generations from the ravages of climate change,” said Rev. Sandy Strauss of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches.
“The Clean Power Plan has given Pennsylvania a huge opportunity to take charge of our energy future,” said Lina Blount, Field Associate for PennEnvironment. “All of our leaders, especially our Pennsylvania Senators now considering HB 2354, should back the EPA’s plan to address climate change and work to make Pennsylvania a leader in clean energy instead of power plant pollution.”