Air pollution report shows wide disparities among top 100 electric companies

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2002 — In a finding that highlights the financial and political stakes in the current debate over reducing power plant emissions, a report released Thursday reveals wide disparities in air pollution emissions from the 100 largest electric generating companies.

The report concludes that fewer than 20 power generation companies in the United States account for 50% 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 in the U.S. Between 4 and 6 companies accounted for 25% of emissions of each pollutant.

Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Generation Owners in the U.S. – 2000, was released by CERES, a national coalition of environmental and investor groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated (PSEG), one of the electric power generation companies included in the report.

The report analyzes data submitted by the companies to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other government agencies for the year 2000. 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).

The groups issued the report to assist government policy makers, corporate leaders, investors, and the public as they take actions that affect emissions from the electric utility industry. The report enables investors and policymakers to see the disparity in air pollution performance among the nation’s largest power producers, and shape future regulatory and business decisions to reduce emissions.

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, said “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.

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.

The report provides context to the internal debate within the electric industry on how best to balance business interests while delivering needed emission reductions. A number of companies, including PSEG, are advocating uniform, national emission standards for NOx, SO2, mercury, and CO2, hoping to create a more certain climate for investment in capital equipment or asset acquisition without compromising timely progress toward clean air.

Mark Brownstein, PSEG Director – Environmental Policy and Strategy, stressed the importance of the availability of comparative emissions information to companies seeking to improve corporate environmental performance: “This information helps us understand how our environmental performance compares to our competitors. 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.”

“The high emission levels of many companies and the vast differences in emission rates among companies demonstrate the need for comprehensive power plant pollution clean up legislation,” said Dan Lashof, Science Director of NRDC’s Climate Center. “The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is currently considering the Clean Power Act, which would deliver the pollution reductions the public has a right to expect, while creating a level playing field for increasingly competitive electricity generators.”

CERES plans to mail the report 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.

Robert Massie, Executive Director of CERES, explained investors’ interest in the dialogues when he said, “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. 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.”

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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