Climate

Here’s Who To Blame For America’s Increased Contribution To Global Warming In 2013

CREDIT: Shutterstock

A new report released by the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday shows just how much large American industrial facilities including power plants, refineries, and chemical manufacturers contributed to global warming in 2013. The report answers the question of how carbon dioxide was emitted by these industries in 2013 compared to 2012, and the short answer is this: more.

Emissions of greenhouse gases from large industrial sources increased by 0.6 percent since 2012, according to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program data, which is compiled from reports sent in by more than 8,000 emitters. The data does not represent total U.S. emissions, but it does represent greenhouse gas releases from the largest sources, making up about 50 percent of the country’s total.

In a statement accompanying the data, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the emissions increase highlighted the need for President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which includes proposed regulations to require coal-fired power plants to cut their carbon pollution, measures to increase preparation for the impacts of climate change, and promoting the use of renewable energy.

“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 said. “EPA is supporting the President’s Climate Action Plan by providing high-quality greenhouse gas data to inform effective climate action.”

As per EPA’s data, here are the main culprits driving last year’s increase in greenhouse gas emissions since 2012.

Power Plants, Specifically Coal

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CREDIT: Epa.gov

A 0.6 increase in carbon emissions from 2012 to 2013 may not sound like a lot, but it amounts to an additional 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent put into the atmosphere. From an emissions standpoint, that’s the equivalent of adding 2.7 million cars to the road in 2013.

For that uptick, the EPA laid the blame specifically on coal-fired power plants, which have been used more to power America’s electric gird this year because of price increases in natural gas, following very low prices in 2012 caused largely by the fracking boom.

Coal plants are the single biggest air polluter in the U.S., so it makes sense that our increased use of them causes more carbon to be released into the atmosphere. But the real culprit for our high emissions is, as EPA points out, fossil-fuel power plants themselves. According to the data, more than 1,550 power plants emitted 2.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide — the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent of adding 442 million cars to the road for a year. Power plants accounted for roughly 32 percent of the total U.S. greenhouse gas pollution.

Texas

This map shows the total reported emissions from power plants by state in 2013 and the number of reporting power plants in each state.

This map shows the total reported emissions from power plants by state in 2013 and the number of reporting power plants in each state.

CREDIT: EPA.gov

It makes sense that Texas would be the state responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial sources, in 2013 and beyond. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Texas is the both country’s leading crude oil-producing state and the leading natural gas producing state, exceeding production levels even from the federal offshore areas. Its 27 petroleum refineries make up almost 29 percent of total U.S. refining capacity. It’s also the state with the largest concentration of petrochemical plants — more than 200 facilities in all.

Because of this, the EPA’s data shows that Texas is the biggest carbon emitter by a long shot. The amount of carbon Texas emitted in 2013 was approximately 2.5 times greater than the amount released by Indiana, the second-largest emitting state.

Texas was not only the larger emitter, though — its carbon pollution also increased in 2013 despite decreasing in 2012. In 2012, the state in total emitted 396 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, down 12 million tons from 2011. But in 2013, the state’s carbon pollution went right back up again, surpassing its 2011 levels to emit 410 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. The 13 million metric ton increase was unsurprisingly due to emissions from power plants and refineries, EPA data showed.

Refineries and Chemical Plants

Combined, refineries and chemical plants systems make up 32 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that are not from power plants.

Combined, refineries and chemical plants systems make up 32 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that are not from power plants.

CREDIT: EPA.gov

While natural gas and petroleum systems were the second largest carbon polluters of the bunch, reporting 224 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the emissions from that sector actually decreased 1 percent from 2012. The EPA said this was because of a 12 percent decrease in methane emissions coming from fracking operations since 2011.

At the same time, though, the third- and fourth-largest carbon polluters — refineries and chemical plants — increased their emissions since 2012. That’s important, because when you take power plants out of the mix, refineries and chemical plants made up 32 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2013. With power plants, both industries combined represented about 10 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S.

According to the EPA data, refineries reported 177 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, a 1.6 percent increase from 2012. Chemical plants emitted 174.6 million metric tons, a 1.02 percent increase.