There’s a good chance you do. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, twenty of the top 25 mercury-emitting coal plants are located within 50-100 miles of some of the America’s biggest cities.
There are 600 coal plants in the U.S. These 25 coal plants emit roughly 30% of total mercury pollution in the U.S. electricity sector.
So do these plants at least provide an equally high amount of energy? No.According to EDF, while these plants represent one third of mercuryemissions, they only provide about 8% of electricity generation.
The harm from coal, if it were actually added to the cost of theirpower, would make these plants uneconomic, as Climate Progress detailedin February (see Life-cycle study: Accounting for total harm from coal would add “close to 17.8¢/kWh of electricity generated”).
Here’s a list of the worst offenders:
So how bad are these plants? Let’s take a look at a few of the top polluters:
Ranked #1 on the mercury list, Martin Lake is considered one of the dirtiest plants in the U.S. Located near Longview, Texas, the plant operator was suedby the Sierra Club in 2010 for 50,000 air pollution violations:
It is the worst power plant for mercury pollution amongall U.S. coal plants, emitting 1,764 pounds in 2008, according to theEnvironmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory. InTexas, Martin Lake ranked third for asthma-causing soot pollution andwas responsible for 13 percent of all industrial air pollution in thestate.
The Scherer Plant is #7 on EDF’s list. Located in Juliette, Georgia, the 2.5 GW facility is not only a top emitter of mercury, it’s also beenlabeled as the largest emitter of CO2 emissions in America.
Scherer is owned and operated by Georgia Power, whichalso owns the Bowen Plant. Scherer burns through an average of threetrain-loads of coal per day – coal hauled in from Wyoming’s PowderRiver Basin, 1,800 miles away. At any given time, BNSF has thirty-sixdifferent two-mile long coal trains somewhere on the ten-day roundtripbetween Wyoming and Georgia.
The 2.7 GW Colstrip plant, located east of Billings, Montana, ranks #23on the list. The plant has installed scrubbers, but it’s sheer size makes it a top emitter.
Gordon Criswell, director of environmental andengineering compliance at PPL Montana, the company that co-owns andoperates the Colstrip plant, said that the plant has actually cut itsmercury emissions by 85 to 90 percent in 2010 after installing a newmercury control system.
Criswell says the 2009 ranking is due to the size of the plant, where four coal-fired units burn about 10 million tons of coal a year. This is equivalent to one rail car’s worth of coal every five minutes,according to PPL Montana.
Due to increased pressure, a number of other plants have installedscrubbing technologies to reduce heavy metals and particulates. The EPAis also considering new emissions regulations to lower pollution and protect communities located near these plants.
– Tyce Herrman with Stephen Lacey