New Report Benchmarks Air Pollution From Top 100 Electric Companies

A report released yesterday reveals wide disparities in air pollution emissions from the 100 largest electric generating companies.

A report released yesterday reveals wide disparities in air pollution emissions from the 100 largest electric generating companies.

"Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Generation Owners in the U.S. - 2000" concludes that fewer than 20 power generation companies in the United States account for 50 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2), mercury (Hg), oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emitted into the air by the 100 largest public and private electric power companies. Some four to six companies accounted for 25 percent of emissions of each pollutant.

American Electric Power, which generated the most electricity in the country in 2000, was the largest emitter of CO2, Hg, Nox and SO2. The company accounted for 7 percent to 10 percent of industry emissions. Rounding out the top five were Southern Co. (2), Tennessee Valley Authority (3), Exelon (4) and Entergy (5).

The report was released by CERES, a national coalition of environmental and investor groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. (PSEG), one of the electric power generation companies included in the report. The report analyzes data submitted by the companies to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other government agencies for the year 2000.

"Like other publicly available environmental information, such as EPA Toxic Release Inventory, this information will be valuable to corporate leaders, government policy makers, investors, and the public as they determine our clean air policies," said David Gardiner, one of the report''s authors and former assistant administrator of the EPA and executive director of the White House Climate Change Task Force under the Clinton administration. "Government decision makers, electric utility executives, investors and the public should use this information to improve the nation''s air quality. Government will use this information to determine appropriate energy and environmental policy. Environmentally responsible corporate citizens will use this information to improve their own environmental report card. Investors will use it to invest in responsible corporate citizens, and consumers can use it to judge the companies that operate in their neighborhoods."

There are a number of proposals now being debated that would reduce power plant air emissions. In mid-February President Bush proposed a new power plant emissions reduction program for mercury, NOx and SO2, with a separate, voluntary reduction program for CO2. A "four-pollutant" bill sponsored by Senator James Jeffords (I-VT) proposes required reduction programs for all four pollutants, including CO2. PSEG, along with other members of an industry coalition called the Clean Energy Group, also is advocating a comprehensive, four-pollutant proposal for federal legislation.

At the same time, EPA is considering proposals that would substantially revise or eliminate the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act that requires utilities and other emitting industries to update pollution prevention equipment when doing major facility modifications. Federal legislators are also considering proposals for comprehensive energy legislation, renewable energy portfolio standards and efficiency standards.

There is an internal debate going on within the electric industry on how to balance business interests with reduction of emissions.

"This information helps us understand how our environmental performance compares to our competitors," Mark Brownstein, PSEG director of Environmental Policy and Strategy. "Frankly, some of the data in the report convinced us that we have work to do, and was a factor in our decision to make significant additional environmental investments in our coal units in New Jersey."

CERES plans to mail copies of "Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Generation Owners in the U.S. - 2000" to the CEOs of all 100 companies named in the report, with an invitation to participate in a series of "utility dialogues" sponsored by CERES to discuss industry emissions reduction. The yearlong dialogue would include companies, investors, and environmental organizations, and would recommend financial incentives specifically to reduce CO2 emissions. Pollution effects associated with the four emissions include acid deposition, fine particulates, and regional haze (NOx and SO2), global warming (CO2), mercury deposition, nitrogen deposition and ozone smog (NOx).

"In the wake of Enron, investors are anxious to have as much information as possible to help assess a company''s worth and liability. Air pollutant emissions are one of the most measurable, relevant, and significant indicators of risk for this particular industry, while climate change could pose the single most devastating economic impact economy-wide," said Robert Massie, executive director of CERES. "We know these emissions are harmful, and we can require their elimination over time in a way that''s fair to the entire industry. This is the piece of the puzzle that''s been missing."

To see a copy of the report, go to Ceres Web site at www.ceres.org/publications/main.htm.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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