A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) rating air-pollution emissions performance of America’s 100 largest electric power producers reveals important trends in the industry, and sharp contrasts between the best and worst emissions performers. The report shows overall emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) are dropping, thanks largely to standards created in the Clean Air Act of 1990. Meanwhile emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), which remain unregulated, are soaring.
The report found that wide disparities in pollution rates persist industry-wide, with some companies responsible for far-higher pollution rates than their total electricity production would account for, and that few power plants use currently available, state-of-the-art emissions control technologies. A decade after the Clean Air Act Amendments mandated SO2 and NOx reductions from the electric power industry, the researchers say coal plants—many of which are not required to install state-of-the-art controls—are being used more intensively, contributing to a rise in CO2 emissions.
The report comes at a time of intensifying debate over the future of regulation in the electric power industry, increasing uncertainty for the companies over future regulation of pollutants mercury and carbon dioxide, and rising investor concern about risk exposure of companies with continued high emissions. Public awareness of the dangers of power plant pollution has also been on the rise with increasing bans on fish consumption for fear of mercury poisoning, and rising asthma rates among children in urban areas.