WASHINGTON – Emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from power plants fell 10 percent from 2010 to 2012 as a result of more electricity being generated with natural gas rather than coal, according to new data released Wednesday by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Fossil-fuel-fired plants still contribute 40 percent of carbon dioxide and other emissions driving climate change, making them the largest source of greenhouse gases, the EPA said. The data arrive as the EPA crafts new rules, at President Barack Obama’s behest, to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
“EPA is supporting President Obama’s Climate Action Plan by providing the high-quality data necessary to help guide common-sense solutions to address climate change,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Putting this data in the hands of the public increases transparency, (and) supports accountability.”
The data are part of the 3-year-old EPA Greenhouse Gas Reporting program that gathers emissions information from industries that are the largest polluters and that account for about half of all greenhouse gas emissions. The remainder of emissions come from other far more numerous and diffuse sources, such as the country’s vehicle fleet and homes. The program is the only one that collects greenhouse gas data at the level of individual facilities from major industrial sites around the country.
The EPA site is meant to give people a detailed picture of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States. Individuals can go to the EPA website and find out how much carbon dioxide a particular power plant, paper mill, refinery or metals smelter in their town emits.
The decline in greenhouse gas emissions because of the switch to natural gas may be short-lived, however. Some electric utilities have recently begun burning coal more often than gas because coal has proven cheaper lately, according to the Energy Information Administration. The return to coal signals that greenhouse gas emissions could begin rising once more this year, the EIA forecast.