FILE PHOTO: The US flag flies at half mast in front of a coal-fired power plant’s cooling tower at Duke Energy’s Crystal River Energy Complex in Crystal River, Florida, U.S., March 26, 2021. Picture taken March 26, 2021. REUTERS/Dane Rhys/File Photo
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. power plant emissions of pollutants that harm human health and warm the planet fell last year as the industry continued a switch from coal to natural gas, the Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday.
The reductions occurred, despite a 2% rise last year in electricity demand in the lower 48 U.S. states, mostly due to the transition off coal, the fossil fuel that releases large amounts of pollution when burned.
The EPA said emissions of smog components nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide last year dropped 4% and 10%, respectively, compared with 2021. Emissions of mercury, a neurotoxin which can accumulate in the environment and make some kinds of fish unsafe to eat frequently, fell 3%.
“Communities that live near power plants deserve the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards as everyone else,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “Our work is far from done, but the data prove we’re on the right path.”
Emissions from power plants of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, fell 1% compared with 2021, the EPA said.
The EPA data did not mention emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from the natural gas industry, an emissions source that environmentalists say is important to decrease as the United States is on track to become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, or LNG.
Earlier this month the EPA reaffirmed the 2012 legal and scientific finding that regulating hazardous air toxics and mercury from power plants is necessary, a required step before it can strengthen those air regulations.
The agency is expected to issue a final rule on those pollutants in coming months, one of a suit of regulations to clean up the power sector and force power station operators to tighten controls or shutter older plants.