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Northeast Environmental Groups Determine Highest Polluting Power Plants

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As the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, environmental groups are looking at ways to prevent a similar weather event.

Environment Massachusetts and Environment New York are part of a national federation aiming to protect clean air, water, and open space. At events across the country, including in Albany and Boston, the organizations released reports detailing the top 100 carbon producing power plants in the United States. Eric Whalen is a field organizer with Environment New York.

“When we’re talking about cutting global warming pollution, if we’re truly going to tackle the problem, the real elephant in the room is power plants and the carbon pollution they emit,” said Whalen.

Ben Hellerstein of Environment Massachusetts says the identified 100 power plants account for 30 percent of the country’s power sector emissions, despite producing 16 percent of the nation’s energy. He says addressing carbon pollution is especially relevant today.

“As global warming continues extreme weather events are going to become more frequent and more severe, which is putting communities in Massachusetts at risk,” said Hellerstein.

Hellerstein says Massachusetts ranks 36th among the states with its power plants emitting carbon dioxide levels equal to the amount produced by 3.4 million cars every year. New York power plants produce the equivalent of 7.9 million vehicles each year, coming in at 27th in the country, according to Whalen. Connecticut’s power plants emit carbon levels comparative to 1.6 million cars a year, while Vermont contributes no electric power sector emissions. To put the numbers in perspective, the top carbon producing power plant in the country is Georgia’s Plant Scherer emitting 21.3 million metric tons a year, equal to 4.4 million cars.

“Even though we have such a big population and energy consumption, New York State is doing great work to cut its global warming pollution from power plants,” Whalen said. “It’s really a success story.”

The report is an effort to shore up support for President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, announced in June. Similar efforts to provide alternative renewable energy sources like wind and solar power are being instituted through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Whalen says the agreement between Northeastern states to limit carbon emissions has generated over $1 billion in investments for energy efficiency. Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy agreed to set new efficiency standards for commercial refrigeration equipment after being pushed by a coalition of states including Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.

“In Massachusetts, we have a lot of old homes from the turn of the 20th century or earlier before the advent of modern energy efficiency practices,” said Hellerstein. “There is a ton of potential here in Massachusetts that’s really just beginning to be tapped in terms of energy efficiency.”

As part of the Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will release emission standards for new power plants on September 20. President Obama’s plan faces challenges from those who say there are significant upfront costs to adhere to new standards and implement new sources of energy. As Superstorm Sandy cost $50 billion in recovery efforts, Hellerstein says there is a cost in not acting.

“There was one study done by the Boston Harbor Association earlier this year,” he said. “They found that parts of Boston could be subject to flooding between four to six feet or more as global warming continues and sea levels rise if we see another storm like Hurricane Sandy. That is staggering. We have to ask ourselves, what is the cost of inaction?”

Massachusetts’ top carbon emitting plant is the Mystic Generating Station outside of Boston, while New York’s number one is Kintigh Generating Station in Niagara County. Neither made the top 100.

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