Power plant CO2 emissions rise for first time since 2013

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2019

For the first time in five years, power plant emissions of carbon dioxide crept up in 2018, while releases of two other key pollutants continued to drop, according to preliminary data released today by EPA.

Releases of sulfur dioxide fell 4 percent to 1.26 million tons in comparison with 2017 totals, while emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) dropped 6 percent to 1.02 million tons.

But carbon dioxide emissions rose by a fraction of a percent to 1.93 billion tons. The increase was the first since 2013, according to the data.

In a news release, EPA said overall electric generation rose in 2018 by 5 percent. The numbers “show that America is enjoying ever cleaner air as our economy grows, and the U.S. continues as a global leader in clean air progress,” air chief Bill Wehrum said.

The data cover power plants in the continental United States. From 1990 through 2018, yearly emissions of sulfur dioxide from power plants tumbled by 92 percent and annual emissions of NOx fell by 84 percent, the agency data show.

While EPA did not offer any explanation for the latest data, coal-fired power plants that are major sources of NOx and sulfur dioxide continued to close in 2018 as electricity producers turned to natural gas and renewables for fuel.

The Trump administration has also left in place the Obama-era Cross-State Air Pollution Rule update, geared to reducing power plant NOx emissions that contribute to ozone problems in other states.