Texas currently ranks the 10th worst state in the nation when it comes to exposing residents to toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants, according to the latest analysis released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The NRDC data show:
* Texas’ electricity sector ranks 10th in the nation for industrial toxic air pollution for the year 2010, emitting nearly 10.5 million pounds of harmful chemicals, which accounted for 25% of state pollution and about 3% of toxic pollution from all U.S. power plants.
* Texas ranks 1st (worst) among all states for industrial mercury air pollution from power plants, with 12,740 pounds emitted in 2010, which accounted for 78% of the state mercury air pollution and 19% of U.S. electricity sector mercury pollution.
The states on the “Toxic 20” list are from worst to best:
5. West Virginia
8. North Carolina
13. South Carolina
The headlines may have you believing that things continue to get worse with respect to CO2 emissions. But dispute what popular opinion thinks, carbon emissions are not continuing to go up. History may mark 2007 as the turning point in the fight to control CO2 emissions. According to projections by the Energy Information Administration, carbon dioxide emissions may never return to 2007 levels; at least not in the next few decades.
The reason for the drop is fairly straightforward. Generally speaking, economic activity is an accurate predictor of emission levels. Economic grow means more people on the roads, more manufactures burning fossil fuels, more electricity and more CO2. The events in the financial markets in 2008 shocked the economy into a near standstill. CO2 emissions followed the economy down.
Historic patterns would suggest then that as the economy has recovered, so too would CO2 emissions rise again. But emission levels are not rebounding at a rate in keeping with economic growth. This is due in large part to the macro trend toward cleaner electricity sources.
Coal has long been the foundation for electricity generation in the U.S. Nothing else was as cheap and accessible as coal. But this trend has reversed recently; seeing coal steadily lose its share of the U.S. electricity mix. This is due in part to stricter environmental regulations and in part due to seemingly overnight boom in natural gas.
The switch off of coal onto cleaner energy sources is happening at a rate sufficient to keep the overall emissions levels lower despite increased energy usage due to economic expansion.
This effect is well illustrated in the state of Texas were the majority of electricity now comes from sources other than coal. Natural gas is now the predominated source of electricity in Texas.
Texas is the nation’s largest producer of natural gas by a wide margin. They also use natural gas extensively to generate electricity for the Texas grid which is separate from the other North American grids. Thanks in large part to prolific new drilling techniques natural gas is the cheapest it has ever been. The effect all this has on Texas is cheap electricity.
Aside from market competition from natural gas, coal is also being squeezed by tougher EPA regulations at the federal level and renewable energy mandates from the state level. The combination of regulatory pressure and competition from natural gas is likely enough to make 2007 an historic turning point in the fight against carbon emissions.
This is the first time in over 40 years that Japan has been 100% nuclear-free. Late Saturday night, Japan shut down the last of its 54 nuclear reactors, bowing to pressure from the Japanese populous who are worried of another nuclear meltdown. Now worries of a different kind are beginning to take hold.
With summer coming in Japan, the government is already warning of impending rolling blackouts, and electricity rationing is already being discussed.
Before the tsunami of March 2011, 30% of Japan’s electricity came from nuclear plants. Since those plants have now been removed from the equation, Japan is scrambling to fill the void. At a cost of $100 million dollars per day, Japan is now forced to import substantially more oil and natural gas, 90% of which comes from the turbulent Middle East. The increased use of fossil fuels is expected to increase Japan’s greenhouse gas emmissions by over 15%, and still there will not be enough power to avoid rolling blackouts this summer.
Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, recently told The Washington Post that the country desperately needs to restart the reactors, and do so soon. “I think it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that there won’t be too much stress on the people and on mid- to small-size corporations,” Noda said. “So we must explain to the people of Japan clearly, with that in mind.”
If Japan began switching its nuclear reactors back on this summer, the economy could expect to grow 1.9% this year and would be able to run a trade surplus for the year, instead of the projected $57 billion trade deficit it is staring at due to the tremendous amount of oil and gas it is having to purchase.