December 18, 2014

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Study says Ohio power plants 2nd-most polluting in US

LORAIN — Environment Ohio Research and Policy Center is asking Ohio to clean up its power plants, releasing a study Tuesday that reports Ohio’s power plants are the second-most polluting in the country. 

The group blames carbon emissions from these plants as fueling extreme global warming-related weather events.

The study was presented to city leaders Tuesday at Lorain City Hall in an effort to garner support for additional regulations on U.S. power plants.

This summer, President Barack Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency to propose limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. The EPA is expected to propose an updated rule for cutting carbon pollution from new power plants on Sept. 20, according to a news release from Environment Ohio.

Environment Ohio Research and Policy Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Ohio’s air, water and open spaces by investigating problems and educating the public, according to its website.

Gus Fuguitt, field organizer for Environment Ohio, said studies show that the state has six power plants ranked as the top 100 carbon polluters in the country, according to “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants: Their Oversized Contribution to Global Warming and What We Can Do About It.”

But the problems aren’t limited to Ohio, according to the study compiled by Environment Ohio and the Frontier Group.

There are nearly 6,000 electricity-generating facilities in the U.S., but most of the global warming pollution emitted by the U.S. power sector comes from a handful of exceptionally dirty plants.

Environment Ohio said that approximately 30 percent of all power-sector carbon dioxide emissions in 2011 came from 50 facilities.

According to the study, if the 50 most-polluting U.S. power plants were an independent nation, it would be the seventh-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind Germany and ahead of South Korea. Those plants account for 2 percent of the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide pollution.

“America’s dirtiest power plants are the elephant in the room when it comes to global warming,” Fuguitt said. “If we want a cleaner, safer future for our kids, we can’t afford to ignore power plants’ overwhelming contribution to global warming. For Ohio, tackling the problem means cleaning up the dirtiest power plants.”

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Stephanie Thornton criticized the study, saying that it does not take into account the size of the plants included on the list or the efficiency with which they produce power.

FirstEnergy’s W.H. Sammis power plant, in Stratton, was listed as one of Ohio’s top five polluters, but Thornton said larger facilities, like the Sammis plant, which is one of the largest plants in Ohio, will have more emissions than smaller plants.

She said the company, along with the power plant, has been taking steps to reduce pollutants and emissions over the last two decades and is on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent by 2015.

The company also has plans to invest approximately  $650 million in additional environmental controls at its fossil units over the next several years, she said in a written email response.

Fuguitt, who is stationed in Lorain working to generate support for stricter regulations, said there are no federal limits on carbon dioxide pollution from plants.

Fuguitt said it’s important to reduce emissions, because science shows that carbon pollution is fueling global warming, which he said leads to severe weather phenomenon like superstorm Sandy in 2012. Carbon dioxide is the leading greenhouse gas driving global warming, and power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide pollution in the U.S., according to research quoted in the study.

Proponents of the energy industry have argued that strict regulations have hurt the industry, however.

In March 2012, GenOn Energy Inc., a nationwide energy generator, announced it would close seven of its coal-powered plants across Ohio and Pennsylvania, including one in Avon Lake. The company cited costly environmental regulations as the reason.

The closures represented a loss of 3,140 megawatts — the standard term of measurement for bulk electricity — in generating capacity as well as countless jobs.

Lorain Councilman Tony Richardson, D-at large, who was a speaker at Tuesday’s presentation, said action needs to be taken to reduce emissions, but Environment Ohio is not looking to hurt the coal industry.

“This is not an attack on coal-powered plants, coal workers or the coal industry. I’m fully aware of the costs associated with investing in clean-coal technology, but we have a duty to preserve our environment, and placing restrictions on coal-powered plants that emit high levels of pollution will certainly help reduce our carbon footprint,” he said. “Global warming is a threat to humanity, and it’s important that we remain proactive and diligent in addressing this eminent issue.”

Richardson cited several promising local steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, such as Oberlin College’s initiative to reduce its “carbon footprint” below zero. The college became the 18th city in the world to join the Climate Positive Development Program, also known as the Clinton Climate Initiative. The initiative was launched in May 2009 by former President Bill Clinton to demonstrate climate positive ways in which cities can grow.

Fuguitt also praised Filtrexx International, a Grafton-based company that is dedicated to “green” practices and is working to become a carbon-negative company. Filtrexx’s Marketing and outreach coordinator Kristin Nix also served as a speaker on Tuesday.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.

FYI: Environment Ohio is holding a campaign kick-off meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at El Centro, 2800 Pearl Ave., Lorain. The organization will provide information on future events, including rallies, media events, letter-writing campaigns and collecting petitions.