America's Dirtiest Power Plants

Their Oversized Contribution to Global Warming and What We Can Do About It
Released by: Environment Maryland

Global warming is one of the most profound threats of our time, and we’re already start- ing to feel the impacts – especially when it comes to extreme weather. From Hurricane Sandy to devastating droughts and deadly heat waves, ex- treme weather events threaten our safety, our health and our environment, and scientists predict things will only get worse for future generations unless we cut the dangerous global warming pollution that is fueling the problem. Power plants are the largest source of global warming pollution in the United States, responsible for 41 percent of the nation’s production of carbon dioxide pollution, the leading greenhouse gas driving global warming.

America’s power plants are among the most significant sources of carbon dioxide pollution in the world. The 50 most polluting U.S. power plants emit more than 2 percent of the world’s energy related carbon dioxide pollution – or more pollution than every nation except six worldwide.

Despite their enormous contribution to global warming, U.S. power plants do not face any federal limits on carbon dioxide pollution. To protect our health, our safety and our environment from the worst impacts of global warming, the United States should clean up the dirtiest power plants.

A small handful of the dirtiest power plants produce a massive and disproportionate share of the nation’s global warming pollution.

  • In 2011, the U.S. power sector contributed 41 percent of all U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading pollutant driving global warming.
  • There are nearly 6,000 electricity generating facilities in the United States, but most of the global warming pollution emitted by the U.S. power sector comes from a handful of exceptionally dirty power plants. For example, about 30 percent of all powersector carbon dioxide emissions in 2011 came from the 50 dirtiest power plants; about half came from the 100 dirtiest plants; and about 90 percent came from the 500 dirtiest plants. (See Figure ES-1.)
  • The dirtiest power plant in the United States, Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer, produced more than 21 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2011 – more than the total energy-related emissions of Maine. (See Table ES-1.)
  • Dirty power plants produce a disproportionate share of the nation’s global warming pollution – especially given the relatively small share of total electricity they produce. For example, despite producing 30 percent of all power-sector carbon dioxide emissions, the 50 dirtiest power plants only produced 16 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2011.