EPA Creates Website To ID Biggest Emitters Of Greenhouse Gases | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

EPA Creates Website To ID Biggest Emitters Of Greenhouse Gases

Ever wondered who the big greenhouse-gas emitters are in your neck of the woods? The answer is now just a click away.

The US Environmental Protection Agency today unveiled a new website that identifies most of the nation's biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. It lets you, for example:

-- Click near Macon, Ga., and home in on the nation's largest single-point source of greenhouse gases: the Scherer power plant (actually four huge coal-burning facilities). They pumped out almost 23 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010 — plus some nitrous oxide and methane gas — to keep the lights on in the region.

-- Click on the icon near Petaluma, Calif., to learn that the local landfill produces 133,000 metric tons of methane, which contributes to both smog and global warming.

The agency was compelled by law to collect and distribute this data to the public. And it's not just a starting point for a science fair project. David Doniger at the Natural Resources Defense Council says that "armed with this right-to-know information, people can demand to know what company executives or elected officials are going to do to curb this pollution."

But what companies can do about it is not often very much. The vast majority of emissions are in the form of carbon dioxide from power plants, which mostly burn coal. Old power plants can be tweaked to become more efficient, which can reduce emissions, but only by a few percent.

Carbon dioxide is not a byproduct of burning, like other pollutants. It's the main product. So you can't do much about it no matter how hard you try. You can't put on scrubbers or emissions controls the way you can to limit mercury, sulfur gases and other byproducts.

A coal plant converted to burn natural gas could cut its carbon dioxide emissions in half, but at great expense. And in the long run it might be possible to capture and bury the carbon dioxide, but that technology is expensive and not ready for prime time.

One other thing about the map that displays emissions from large facilities: It accounts for only about half of all the emissions from the United States. The other half? Those come mostly from tailpipes, chimney flues, trucks, planes and countless smaller operations burning fossil fuels from coast to coast.

Even if it's impossible to pinpoint these endless smaller sources, you can at least see who supplies commodities like natural gas, as it flows through the supply chain on the way to your home furnace. That's a separate database at the EPA website: click here for that.

(Richard Harris is a correspondent on NPR's science desk.)

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Patton Oswalt Tweets In Defense Of Comedy — And Trevor Noah

South African comedian Trevor Noah has been criticized for some tweets that critics say are sexist and anti-Semitic. Among his supporters is Oswalt, who took to Twitter to make his point.
NPR

Scary Times For California Farmers As Snowpack Hits Record Lows

Much of the state depends on that snow for its water. In the Central Valley, the nation's most productive farming region, that means another year of fallowed fields and emergency water measures.
NPR

Indiana Law: Sorting Fact From Fiction From Politics

The culture wars are always percolating beneath the surface in presidential politics. And as is often the case in controversies, the facts have become muddled and conflated.
WAMU 88.5

Uber Tweaks Airport Pickups To Create 'Virtual Queue'

Faced with rules that prevent its drivers from hanging out on airport property waiting for rides, Uber is tweaking its system for ride-hailing pick-ups at Reagan National and Dulles International airports.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.