America's Biggest Polluters: Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Power Plants in 2007

Released by: Environment Iowa

Executive Summary

The United States relies heavily on outdated technology and limited resources for most of its electricity needs. While the production of clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power is growing, the vast majority of American electricity comes from burning fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—and from nuclear power.

Our long-time dependence on fossil fuels is a threat to our future. It wreaks havoc on our environment by polluting our air, land, and water; and it puts our entire economy at risk due to our reliance on imports from unfriendly parts of the world. Most importantly, it fuels global warming—the most profound environmental problem of our time, with ever growing impacts that will impose threats to our safety and immense financial cost on our society. Power plants are the single largest source of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the main pollutant that fuels global warming.

Coal is the biggest culprit. Coal supplies just under half of America’s electricity – more than any other source – and is the dirtiest of all fuels. Coal has the highest carbon content of any fossil fuel per unit of energy, meaning that burning coal for electricity produces more carbon per kilowatt-hour generated than does burning oil or natural gas. America’s fleet of coal-fired power plants emitted more than 80 percent of CO2 pollution from U.S. power plants in 2007 and 36 percent of the total U.S. CO2 pollution, as well as disproportionate amounts of smog- and soot-forming pollutants, toxic mercury, and other toxic air pollutants.

This report examines CO2 emissions of America's power plants. We analyze 2007 plant-by-plant data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Acid Rain Program; 2007 is the most recent year for which final data is available. The report finds that America's power is dirty – and also very old – and that these two qualities tend to go hand-in-hand.