In its report, North American Power Plant Air Emissions, the CEC finds that North America’s 3,000 fossil fuel plants produce two-thirds of the continent’s electricity while generating more greenhouse gases than any other industry.
Research from the report shows power plants contribute 33% of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the majority of those emissions can be tied to the combustion of coal.
Although the study found that “a relatively small percentage of facilities across the region account for much of the sector’s sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions,” when it comes to mercury emissions burning coal is the number one contributor. For the U.S. and Canada, coal-fired power plants alone are responsible for 98% of all mercury released from fossil-fuel electric generation and 88% in Mexico.
Created as part of North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) alongside the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, the CEC is comprised of representatives from Canada, the United States and Mexico. The organization’s mandate is to address regional environmental concerns and to promote the enforcement of environmental law. The report is the second released by the CEC — the first was released in 2004.
The release of this study comes in the last week of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP17, in Durban, South Africa where delegates are debating, among other things, an extension to the Kyoto Protocol. The CEC’s findings are particularly revealing considering earlier this year the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory released data showing the highest levels of carbon dioxide emissions the laboratory has ever recorded in its 50 year history.
Additionally, the report comes a week before the deadline for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to be finalized.
Under the new standard, coal- and oil-fired power plants will be required to install pollution controls to cut mercury emissions. The electricity sector has been fervently pushing against the new standards claiming that both the cost to install pollution controls and also the time frame the EPA has mandated are unrealistic and will effectively cause an electricity shortage and spike energy costs. Last Friday, however, the Department of Energy released a report rejecting the notion that the standards will create deficit in power supply.