The Top 100 Polluters In The United States

The biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States are coal-burning power generators.

The top three polluters are American Electric Power, Duke Energy and Southern Company. AEP emits the equivalent of 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, accounting for about 2 percent of the annual total, with Duke at 127 million tons and Southern Co. at 118 million.

The U.S. government is one of the top five air polluters in the country.

The U.S. government is one of the top five air polluters in the country.

Coming in a distant fourth is the U.S. Government with 77 million tons. Why? Uncle Sam is the official owner of the power plants operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

It should go without saying that these biggest emitters are also the nation’s biggest generators of electricity.

Then there’s the oil refiners like ExxonMobil (no. 14 with 39 million tons) and BP (no. 19), which generate a lot of emissions in the process of making gasoline and chemicals. And steelmakers like U.S. Steel (22nd) and ArcelorMittal (26th), which require massive amounts of energy to smelt iron ore.

Koch Industries, owned by the billionaire Koch brothers, is at 27th place with 24 million tons.

It’s abundantly clear from looking at this list that coal-burning power plants are the biggest single-point carbon emitters in the country. To put this into terms we can more closely identify with — the average human, at least according to this calculation, emits roughly 200 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year from breathing. That implies that AEP is emitting about as much carbon dioxide as the breathing of 650 million people.

Southern Company operates what are, according to EPA data, the two biggest single-point carbon emitters in the nation — the James Miller plant in Quinton, Alabama and the Scherer plant in Juliette, Georgia. Both are tied at roughly 22 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Individually, each of those plants would have ranked 31st on the list of biggest emitters. The Scherer plant produces 3,500 mw of electricity, about enough to supply 3.5 million homes.

Although these plants are mega polluters, they only rank 15th in the world. According to this report from Carbon Monitoring for Action, the most polluting coal plant is in Taiwan (36 million tons of carbon dioxide a year). South Korea has five coal plants that emit more than the Miller and Scherer plants.

The EPA has been cracking down on America’s most polluting plants, forcing them to install technology to scrub emissions of mercury and other toxins before they leave smokestacks. Some power generators like Southern Company and the TVA have been retiring coal-fired plants and building cleaner natural gas plants to replace them.

But with coal still providing 40% of America’s electricity, it’s clear that unless we want to turn the lights out and air conditioners off for millions of Americans, coal isn’t going to go away any time soon.

An AEP spokeswoman notes that the company is working to reduce its emissions, largely by replacing coal with natural gas:

AEP’s greenhouse gas emissions have gone down significantly in recent years, from 185 million metric tons in 2000 to 122 million metric tons in 2012. Greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced largely because the demand for electricity is lower and coal plants are not running as much. Emissions will continue to go down as AEP retires nearly 6,000 megawatts of coal-fueled generation in the coming years to meet new emission regulations. As we transition our generating fleet, our coal-fueled generating capacity will go from 60 percent today to about 46 percent by 2020, while our natural gas capacity will increase from 23 percent to 33 percent over the same time period.

Environmentalists would like you to think that solar should be the answer when it comes to powering the future. Solar prices have been plunging, with the cost of installing 1 watt of solar generation falling from $7.50 in 2007 to roughly $1 today, according to Bernstein Research. But don’t expect solar power to be the carbon panacea. Nationwide, the entire base of installed solar panels generates roughly 8,500 mw. That’s less than the output of three giant coal plants.

For comparison, the world’s biggest solar installation, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, in the Mojave Desert of California is set to generate 400 megawatts from tens of thousands of reflecting mirrors.

To replace the Scherer coal plant you’d need to build 9 Ivanpah installations at a cost of roughly $20 billion, and you’d need to find nearly 100,000 acres to put them on. That’s because although Ivanpah covers 3,500 acres of land its developers have had to set aside some 6,000 acres to “mitigate” the impact of the power plant on desert tortoises and the like. That’s to replace just one coal-fired power plant.

A smarter, proven alternative to solar and coal is one that the Southern Company is already pursuing: nuclear. At its Vogtle nuclear power plant, Southern Co. is in the midst of constructing two new reactors. At a cost of roughly $15 billion they will generate 2,200 mw of carbon free electricity when completed in 2018. By not generating that electricity from coal, Southern will save roughly 10 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

The Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst has released a new list, based on 2011 data, of the top 100 emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

June 2013 release; based on 2011 data
Links on company names lead to detailed company reports.

Rank Parent corporation or entity 2011 emissions
(CO2 equivalent metric tons)
Percentage of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from all sources * Industrial sectors
1 American Electric Power 130,409,118 1.94% power plants, other
2 Duke Energy Corp 126,750,270 1.89% power plants, other, petroleum and natural gas systems, waste
3 Southern Co 118,092,746 1.76% power plants, other
4 U.S. Government 77,490,931 1.16% power plants, other, waste, chemicals
5 Berkshire Hathaway 70,790,868 1.06% power plants, minerals, chemicals, other, petroleum and natural gas systems
6 Ameren Corp 67,800,250 1.01% power plants
7 Luminant Generation Company LLC 61,984,066 0.92% power plants
8 FirstEnergy Generation Corp 53,247,501 0.79% power plants, other
9 AES Corp 51,104,120 0.76% power plants, other
10 Xcel Energy Inc 50,829,838 0.76% power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems, other
11 Dominion Resources Inc 44,072,686 0.66% power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems, other
12 NRG Energy Inc 43,800,733 0.65% power plants
13 Edison International 41,296,612 0.62% power plants, other
14 ExxonMobil Corp 39,052,958 0.58% refineries, petroleum and natural gas systems, power plants, chemicals, other
15 Calpine Corp 38,100,700 0.57% power plants
16 DTE Energy Co 37,846,329 0.56% power plants, metals, petroleum and natural gas systems
17 LG&E and KU Energy LLC 34,903,981 0.52% power plants, other, petroleum and natural gas systems
18 Entergy Corp 34,534,104 0.51% power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems
19 BP America Inc 33,854,206 0.50% refineries, petroleum and natural gas systems, power plants, chemicals, other
20 Conoco Phillips 31,288,514 0.47% refineries, petroleum and natural gas systems, chemicals, power plants
21 Florida Power and Light Company 31,253,029 0.47% power plants
22 United States Steel Corp 29,633,687 0.44% metals, waste
23 Dynegy Inc 28,338,048 0.42% power plants
24 Genon Energy Inc 27,301,491 0.41% power plants
25 Great Plains Energy Inc 26,708,341 0.40% power plants, other
26 ArcelorMittal USA LLC 26,258,892 0.39% metals, other, minerals
27 Koch Industries Inc 24,373,922 0.36% chemicals, pulp and paper, refineries, waste, other, minerals
28 Valero Corp 23,086,589 0.34% refineries, chemicals, other, waste
29 OGE Energy Corp 22,634,272 0.34% power plants, other
30 Robert W Scherer Power Plant 22,067,841 0.33% power plants
31 Santee Cooper 21,505,044 0.32% power plants, other
32 Chevron Corp 21,433,977 0.32% refineries, petroleum and natural gas systems, chemicals, power plants, waste
33 Westar Energy Inc 20,923,722 0.31% power plants, other
34 Exelon Corp 20,446,962 0.30% power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems, other
35 CMS Energy Corp 19,877,958 0.30% power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems
36 PPL Corp 19,144,057 0.29% power plants, other
37 waste Management Inc 17,122,206 0.26% waste, power plants
38 CPS Energy 17,074,454 0.25% power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems, other
39 Associated Electric Cooperative Inc 16,933,814 0.25% power plants
40 Navajo Generating Station 16,928,813 0.25% power plants
41 Wisconsin Electric Power Company 16,815,909 0.25% power plants
42 Shell Oil Co 15,925,660 0.24% refineries, petroleum and natural gas systems, chemicals
43 Northern Indiana Public Service Co 15,336,022 0.23% power plants
44 Dow Chemical Co 15,242,754 0.23% chemicals, power plants, waste, metals, petroleum and natural gas systems, other
45 TECO Energy 15,085,176 0.22% power plants, other
46 Colstrip Energy LP 14,466,710 0.22% power plants
47 SCANA Corp 14,080,193 0.21% power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems, other
48 IPR-GDF Suez North America Inc 14,038,842 0.21% power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems
49 Ohio Valley Electric Corp 13,992,166 0.21% power plants
50 Basin Electric Power Cooperative 13,830,729 0.21% power plants, chemicals
51 Laramie River 13,608,004 0.20% power plants
52 Four Corners Steam Elec Station 13,246,273 0.20% power plants
53 Ascend Performance Materials LLC 12,876,777 0.19% chemicals, other, waste
54 Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Co 12,568,024 0.19% other, pulp and paper, waste
55 Omaha Public Power District 12,541,774 0.19% power plants, other
56 Lousiana Generating LLC 12,458,754 0.19% power plants
57 Tri-State Generation & Transmission 12,209,583 0.18% power plants, other
58 Lower Colorado River Authority 12,083,177 0.18% power plants, other
59 Republic Services Inc 11,888,890 0.18% waste
60 Intermountain Power Agency 11,850,482 0.18% power plants, other
61 Alliant Energy Corp 11,835,678 0.18% power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems
62 San Juan Generating Station 11,822,117 0.18% power plants
63 CF Industries Holdings Inc 11,719,857 0.17% chemicals
64 JEA 11,542,029 0.17% power plants, other
65 Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority 11,532,221 0.17% power plants, other
66 CONSOL Energy Inc 11,502,987 0.17% other
67 Unisource Energy Corp 11,401,082 0.17% power plants, other, petroleum and natural gas systems
68 East Kentucky Power Cooperative 11,389,274 0.17% power plants, other
69 Alcoa Inc 11,282,739 0.17% power plants, metals, petroleum and natural gas systems, other, waste
70 E I Du Pont De Nemours & Co 11,009,910 0.16% chemicals, power plants, other, waste
71 Nebraska Public Power District 10,925,137 0.16% power plants, other
72 Cleco Corp 10,912,797 0.16% power plants, other
73 Independence Power Plant 10,875,345 0.16% power plants
74 Air Products & chemicals Inc 10,870,171 0.16% chemicals, power plants
75 Big Rivers Electric Corp 10,792,804 0.16% power plants
76 Great River Energy 10,591,940 0.16% power plants, other, waste
77 Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) Inc 10,566,296 0.16% power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems, other
78 Pinnacle West Capital Corp 10,451,875 0.16% power plants
79 Keystone Generating Station 10,391,728 0.15% power plants
80 Southwestern Energy Co 10,271,682 0.15% petroleum and natural gas systems
81 Occidental petroleum Corp 10,178,931 0.15% power plants, chemicals, petroleum and natural gas systems, other
82 Marathon petroleum Co LP 9,897,757 0.15% refineries
83 NV Energy 9,829,528 0.15% power plants, other
84 Conemaugh Generating Station 9,780,720 0.15% power plants
85 Allete Inc 9,706,645 0.14% power plants
86 Seminole Electric Cooperative Inc 9,039,874 0.13% power plants
87 Monongahela Power Company 8,643,856 0.13% power plants
88 Tenaska Energy 8,281,336 0.12% power plants
89 PDV Holding Inc (PDVSA) 7,936,959 0.12% refineries, chemicals
90 Hoosier Energy Rec Inc 7,886,926 0.12% power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems
91 Motiva Enterprises LLC 7,828,167 0.12% refineries, chemicals
92 AK Steel Corp 7,809,929 0.12% metals
93 Grand River Dam Authority 7,742,148 0.12% power plants, other
94 Pleasants Power Station 7,632,222 0.11% power plants
95 Salt River Project 7,597,117 0.11% power plants, other, waste
96 Carmeuse Lime Inc 7,497,233 0.11% minerals
97 Holcim (US) Inc 7,497,024 0.11% minerals
98 Buckeye Power Co 7,451,578 0.11% power plants
99 Calypso Energy Holdings LLC 7,394,016 0.11% power plants
100 Nextera Energy Inc 7,370,762 0.11% power plants, other

* Percentages are the parent corporation or entity’s percentage of all 2011 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, including electric power, transportation, industrial, commercial, residential, and agricultural emissions, the total of which is 6,708.3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents according to the draft 2011 U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks.

The links from each parent name lead to an application that gives detailed facility and sector information about the company. You can also search for companies not on the Greenhouse 100.




About Gary Chandler

Gary R. Chandler is a sustainability author and strategist. Follow him on Twitter @Gary_Chandler
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