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Cleaner Energy, Cleaner Air

August 13, 2012 - Ceres is an organization made up of investors, companies, and public interest groups that work to accelerate and expand adoption of sustainable business practices.  They, along with collaborators M.J. Bradley & Assoc., the National Resources Defense Council, Entergy, Exelon, Tenaska, and Bank of America, issue a report every other year that assesses the environmental performance and progress of electric power companies.  This year's report is the eighth edition of Benchmarking Air Emissions, and it makes for enjoyable reading.  Lo and behold, the United States is in the midst of a clean energy transition.  At last!  Here are some of the long-awaited particulars:

  • From 2008 to 2010, emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from electric power plants fell by over 30 percent.
  • During the same period, carbon dioxide emissions fell four percent.  Preliminary data show another five percent reduction took place in 2011.
  • When large hydroelectric power projects are included, renewable sources of energy now provide over ten percent of U.S. power.
How have we gotten from where we were to where we are?  It's no surprise.  This shift is due mainly to the switch from coal-fired power plants to plants that use natural gas as their power source.  Not only that; zero emissions renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal are playing a role, too.  In addition, new rules that have become part of the Clean Air Act will go into effect over the next few years.  Power producers are doing what they must in order to comply with them.  In other words, the United States is finally acting in a manner consistent with the science, consistent with what we've known for a very long time.  How do we look, with our heads no longer buried in the sand?

Not that I think there are too many of us who would claim this is the result of all of us taking our brave pills.  It is far more likely to be the happy result of the economic downturn (which is the result of 1- widespread corruption, and 2- peak oil).  Be that as it may, as of April 2012, there were an equal number of coal- and gas- fired power plants in this country.  That's because twelve percent of the coal-fired plants are being retired.  These particular power plants are more than 50 years old, and they are very, very dirty.  They will be replaced with cleaner burning models using more advanced technology.

Some of the high-emissions plants can be found right here where I live, in the state of Ohio.  Cincinnati, in fact, has the eighth dirtiest air in the U.S.  That's why Buckeyes finally woke up, and set some pretty formidable energy efficiency standards.  The target is a 22.5 percent energy savings by 2025.  Duke Energy and American Electric Power are on board with this program, meeting and even exceeding state goals.  The third big energy provider in Ohio, FirstEnergy, opposes the new standards.  Predictably, they have thus far failed to meet them. 

That's unfortunate, because Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania contribute a whopping 35 percent of total U.S. emissions.  Both Senators from eight of the "toxic 20" states - Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia - recently supported a resolution from Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma that would repeal Mercury and Air Toxic standards.  These senators don't need to take their brave pills - they need to take their brain pills!  If you live in one of these states, please let your senators know that pollution reduction is responsible for $90 billion in health care savings.  It's also responsible for preventing 540,000 missed days of work each year.  Let them know you and your children like to breathe clean air, and that you hold them responsible for being a part of the solution to the problem of polluted, disease-causing air.  Thank you!

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