GHGs from U.S. power plants rose slightly last year — report

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Power plants are still responsible for more emissions of greenhouse gases than any other industrial sector, according to a U.S. EPA report released today.

The power sector released almost a third of U.S. man-made carbon dioxide last year, the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program’s report says. And while power plant emissions are down nearly 10 percent compared with 2010 levels, their emissions showed a slight resurgence last year as higher gas prices drove utilities to use slightly more coal.

The petroleum and natural gas sector was a distant second, reporting 224 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions compared with the power sector’s reported 2 billion metric tons.

The oil and gas sector reduced its emissions by about 1 percent last year, a reduction EPA attributed to a 2012 rule requiring newly produced gas operations to use “green completion” technology to capture their initial release of gas.

This is the last year in which petroleum companies will be allowed to use nonstandard methods in estimating their leakage of methane, a greenhouse gas that is many times as climate-forcing as CO2. An amendment to the reporting program is set to go into effect next year and will address the way leakage from natural gas compressors is estimated.

EPA has proposed Clean Air Act rules for new and existing power plants and is mulling regulations for oil and natural gas producers. A decision is expected in the coming few months.

The third-highest-emitting sector is oil refining. Refineries reported 177 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — an uptick of 1.6 percent compared with the previous year.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters last week at a round table at EPA headquarters that a proposed rule limiting volatile organic compounds from refineries might be sufficient to reduce that sector’s emissions. That, she said, would make rules targeted at greenhouse gases unnecessary. The public comment period for the VOCs rule will close next month.

EPA signed a legal settlement agreement with environmentalists in 2010 that promised to promulgate rules under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing refineries.