Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by large U.S. industrial facilities rose by 20 million metric tons to reach 3.18 billion metric tons CO2-equivalent (CO2e) in 2013 – a 0.6 percent year-over-year rise. The increase was driven in the main by increased burning of coal for power generation, according to the fourth year of data released by the EPA's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.
In a statement, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explicitly linked rising GHG emissions to climate change, its growing impacts and costs, and the Obama administration's efforts to meet the challenge.
“Climate change, fueled by greenhouse gas pollution, is threatening our health, our economy, and our way of life—increasing our risks from intense extreme weather, air pollution, drought and disease,” McCarthy was quoted. “EPA is supporting the President’s Climate Action Plan by providing high-quality greenhouse gas data to inform effective climate action.”
2013 greenhouse gas emissions data
As the EPA notes, its Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program is the only program that collects greenhouse gas data at the facility level from major industrial sources nationwide. That includes power plants, oil and gas production and refining, iron and stell mills and landfills. Through the program, the EPA also collects data on production and consumption of ozone-depleting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are used in refrigeration and cooling.
The data from more than 8,000 large GHG emitters the EPA collects represents about half of total U.S. GHG emissions. As the EPA reports, the data for 2013 show:
- Power plants remained the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with over 1,550 facilities emitting over 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, roughly 32 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Power plant emissions have declined by 9.8 percent since 2010, but there was an uptick in emissions of 13 million metric tons in 2013 due to an increased use of coal;
- Petroleum and natural gas systems were the second largest stationary source, reporting 224 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, a decrease of 1 percent from the previous year;
- Reported methane emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems sector have decreased by 12 percent since 2011, with the largest reductions coming from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells, which have decreased by 73 percent during that period. EPA expects to see further emission reductions as the agency’s 2012 standards for the oil and gas industry become fully implemented;
- Refineries were the third largest stationary source, reporting 177 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, up 1.6 percent from the previous year;
- Reported emissions from other large sources in the industrial and waste sectors increased by 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution, up 1 percent from 2012.
Reducing GHG emissions
Under attack from coal and fossil fuel interests, lobbyists and friendly government representatives, the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan would require power plants to reduce GHG emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. By and large, the Clean Power Plan would leave it to states to choose from a variety of options to achieve this goal.
EPA estimates reaching the Clean Power Plan GHG reduction targets would reduce electricity bills by 8 percent by 2030, as well as result in a stronger, more resilient U.S. power grid, which has been rated the worst among developed nations.
The EPA has also set stricter pollution standards for cars and light trucks for the 2012-2025 model years, the agency notes. The fuel savings alone will yield over $1.7 trillion in savings at the pump to Americans, EPA estimates.
Partnerships with U.S. industry participants, moreover, have avoided over 365 million metric tons of GHG emissions to date, according to the agency. That's equal to the annual electricity usage of over 50 million homes.
Images credit: 1) The Environmentalist Blog ; 2) U.S. EPA