Power plant emissions decline ahead of new climate rules

Carbon dioxide emissions from America’s power plants are declining even as the economy is improving, a new report out Tuesday said. 

Emissions fell by 12 percent from 2008 to 2013, according to a report from sustainability group Ceres. Carbon emissions are still significantly higher than they have been historically, but they are trending downward around the United States, and those reductions came even as the economy grew after the recession. 

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The findings are important because of the correlation between carbon emissions and the health of the economy: the two have traditionally grown together. But according to Ceres, power plan carbon emissions have been flat for about two years.

The study comes as the Obama administration finalizes its Clean Power Plan, a new and wide-reaching climate rule for power plants with the goal of reducing carbon emissions from the sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Though the report shows overall emissions are declining, Ceres said progress toward lower-emission energy is uneven geographically and across power producers, something that necessitates the Clean Power Plan.

“To level the playing field for all utilities, and achieve the broader CO2 emissions cuts needed to combat climate change, we need final adoption of the Clean Power Plan,” Ceres president Mindy Lubber said in a statement. 

Ceres said power plants reduced emissions in part due to a decline in overall electricity demand, but also because of coal plant retirements, pollution controls at power plants and low natural gas prices. 

“The nation’s power plants remain the largest source of carbon pollution and we can’t wait any longer to stem this growing danger to our health and economy,” said David Hawkins, director of Climate Programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The good news is that America’s utilities are on a path to achieve the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and its major carbon pollution reductions. We need it now to secure cleaner energy, better health and a safer future.”

Other power plant emissions are down as well, according to the report. Emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides have declined by about 75 percent from 1990 levels, and mercury emissions are down by 50 percent since 2000. All three contribute to health problems.