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Communities | Environment

EPA: Power Plants, Refineries Are Top NW Greenhouse Gas Polluters

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a first-of-its-kind database Wednesday identifying the top greenhouse gas polluters nationally and in each state.

The new database allows anyone with computer access to discover the sources in their community of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases that contribute to a warming climate.

For the Northwest and the country as a whole, power plants are the biggest sources of greenhouse gases, according to the new data. Among the Northwest’s 169 large facilities included in the database, two coal-fired plants in Boardman, Ore. and Centralia, Wash. accounted for more than one-third of the three-state region’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The newly released data for direct emitters show that in 2010:

  • Power plants were the largest stationary sources of direct emissions with 2.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, followed by petroleum refineries with emissions of 183 million metric tons.

  • Carbon dioxide accounted for the largest share of direct greenhouse gas emissions with 95 percent, followed by methane with 4 percent, and nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases accounting for the remaining 1 percent.

  • 100 facilities each reported emissions over 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, including 96 power plants, two iron and steel mills and two refineries.

An EarthFix analysis of the EPA’s data found that in the three Northwest states, power plants and refineries also dominated the list of most prolific emitters of carbon dioxide.

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(Click on table for full list of Northwest facilities in EPA database.)

Among the region’s ten biggest sources of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, seven are power plants in Oregon or Washington. The other three are refineries in Washington.

The single largest greenhouse gas polluter in the Northwest is the TransAlta coal-fired power plant in Centralia, Washington. The EPA says it emitted nearly 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010. The second-largest greenhouse gas emitter is the Portland General Electric coal-fired plant in Boardman, Oregon. It pumped out nearly 4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Portland General Electric has agreed to stop burning coal at its Boardman plant by 2020. TransAlta agreed with Washington State to close one coal-fired boiler by 2020 and the second one by 2025.

Some state agencies already have been collecting greenhouse gas data and setting goals for reducing emissions. Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality is one of them.

Andy Ginsburg heads the agency’s air quality division. He says the EPA’s facility-level data will allow regulators to better calculate where greenhouse gases are coming from and find more efficient ways to reduce them.

“Now that we have some reporting data, instead of just having a top down view of emissions, we also have a bottom up,” he says.

Jana Gastellum with the Oregon Environmental Council applauded the EPA for making data available online in a way that allows people to do research the way they do to assess a vehicle’s fuel economy or count calorie.

“Having greenhouse gas information available on a state by state basis can really help communities understand where their biggest emission sources are and again how to help reduce those emissions,” she says.

The data includes specific information for every state, including Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. (Click on the maps below to access the EPA’s interactive maps of the three Northwest states.)