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.
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.
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.