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November 06, 2013
Power plant results highlight 2012 GHG data

A review of EPA’s most recent data from its greenhouse gas reporting program (GHGRP) should provide insight into why the Agency is so determined to regulate emissions from fossil fuel/biomass power plants. 

Simply put, the EPA is urging along an existing trend in the power sector—the gradual replacement of coal with natural gas—which results in reduced GHG emissions.  Between 2010 and 2012, those reductions were substantial, about 241 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent (MMtCO2e), a more than 10 percent decline.  This is a critical development since GHGRP data from the manufacturing sectors generally indicated increases in CO2e emissions over the same 3-year period.  In other words, with current technology, policies, and economics, it is difficult if not impossible to reduce GHG emissions while increasing production in some sectors; this motivates the EPA to emphasize the need for reductions from power plants.    

8,000 reporting facilities

The GHGRP collects information from over 8,000 facilities that account for 85 percent to 90 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions.  Direct emissions reported for 2012 amounted to 3.13 billion metric tons of CO2e.  About 1,600 power plants emitted 2,090 MMtCO2e, or roughly 40 percent of total carbon pollution in the United States.  

Also, 883 facilities reported data on products they supply that emit GHGs if combusted, released, or oxidized.  An example is gasoline, which is supplied by a relatively small number of entities and consumed in small amounts by many individuals throughout the country. 

In addition to emissions from power plants, the Agency reported the following for direct emitting sectors:


  • Petroleum and natural gas (fully reporting for the first time in 2011)—Emissions increased from 210 MMtCO2e in 2011 to 217 MMtCO2e in 2012.
  • Chemicals—Emissions increased from 163 MMtCO2e in 2010 to 170 MMtCO2e in 2012.
  • Waste (e.g., landfills, wastewater treatment systems, incinerators)—Emissions increased from  94 MMtCO2e in 2010 to 100 MMtCO2e in 2012.
  • Metals—Emissions increased from 99 MMtCO2e in 2010 to 107 MMtCO2e in 2012.
  • Minerals (nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing, e.g., cement production and glass manufacturing)—Emissions increased from 101 MMtCO2e in 2010 to 107 MMtCO2e in 2012.
  • Other (including underground coal mines, electronics manufacturing, food processing, other combustion, ethanol production, and the military)—Emissions increased from 89 MMtCO2e in 2010 to 123 MMtCO2e in 2012.


  • Refineries—Emissions decreased from 178 MMtCO2e in 2010 to 173 MMtCO2e in 2012.
  • Pulp and paper—Emissions decreased from 46 MMtCO2e in 2010 to 42 MMtCO2e in 2012.

Overall, in 2012, the nonpower plant sectors reported emissions of 932 MMtCO2e, less than half that reported by power plants.  Given the cost of natural gas vs. coal and EPA’s anticipated rules for power plants, continuing drops in emissions from the power sector should be expected, even if the recent decline in electricity demand reverses.





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