The folks at Environment Illinois have been doing yeoman's work documenting
exactly why federal climate change legislation is an urgent priority. Yesterday, they released yet another report detailing a major source of
pollution in the Prairie State: coal-fired power plants...
The folks at Environment Illinois have been doing yeoman's work documenting exactly why federal climate change legislation is an urgent priority. Yesterday, they released yet another report detailing a major source of pollution in the Prairie State: coal-fired power plants.
It's no coincidence that Illinois ranks sixth nationally for its level of carbon dioxide pollutants and is home to 21 of the oldest coal-powered plants in the country. After combing through some new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, the EI researchers found that power plants built three or more decades ago were responsible for a whopping 73 percent of all global warming pollutants in 2007 (the most recent data set available). In a nutshell, EI writes, "older means dirtier."
None of the Illinois facilities is more ancient or environmentally hazardous than the Baldwin Energy Complex, which is the 30th dirtiest power plant in the nation. Built in 1969, the technology at the Baldwin plant is so old that it pre-dates the Nixon administration and its annual carbon emissions are equivalent to 2.5 million cars.
"For the same reasons we require cars, air conditioners, and light bulbs to meet technology standards," the report concludes, "we must also set standards for power plants." EI policy director Brian Granahan tells us that the only sure-fire way to clean up the Prairie State's air is federal climate change legislation, which would ensure that "if a power plant wants to remain dirty, they're going to have to pay for it." Watch remarks by Granahan and Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park) at a press conference yesterday:
Here are some more specific recommendations:
Congress should enact a federal cap on global warming pollution. The cap should be consistent with the goal of reducing U.S. emissions by 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and by at least 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. Clean energy and global warming legislation should also include a federal renewable electricity standard to ensure that the United States receives at least 25 percent of its electricity from clean renewable sources of energy by 2025—reducing the need for continued dependence on polluting fossil fuels [...]
For decades, the coal industry has been given hand-outs for electricity production. A 2009 report by the Environmental Law Institute found that traditional fossil fuels received more than five times more federal subsidies—including direct spending and tax breaks—than traditional renewables received during 2002-2008. Electricity production incentives should target energy sources that provide benefits to our environment and our economy.
In order to placate moderate Democrats from coal states, the cap-and-trade bill approved by the House passes along 5 percent of its carbon allowances to coal-fired generators, many of which were grandfathered in under the 1977 Clean Air Act and continue to operate without adequate environmental regulation. Things probably won't improve much in the Senate, either. Just last week, fourteen Democratic senators -- included Sen. Roland Burris -- wrote a letter to Senate leaders advocating for "fair emissions allowances in climate change legislation." The Wonk Room's Brad Johnson interprets this innocuous statement to mean that the bloc thinks "companies should pay based on their pollution."
The coal industry is also engaged in aggressive and dubious lobbying against the climate change bill. Among the industry's leaders is the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which spent $40 million on lobbying last year alone. They've found allies among Congressional Republicans and some leading members of the Illinois GOP, who maintain that man-made climate change is a hoax. Of course, the industry and their allies have a lot to hang onto in the form of major federal subsidies, as EI's report notes.
Granahan tells us that he wants to get the facts out there before the climate change debate picks back up in Congress. On that note, check out Al Gore's insights on the subject during an interview on WBEZ' Eight Forty-Eight yesterday.