Greenhouse-gas emissions from US power plants fell 4.5 per cent in 2011 from the previous year as those facilities burned less coal, the most-intense source of carbon-dioxide pollution.

In its second-annual accounting of greenhouse gases, the US Environmental Protection Agency today released details of emissions from about 8,000 factories, power plants and refineries. Two Southern Co. coal-fired power facilities topped the list, followed by one owned by Energy Future Holdings Corp.

Using the data, “communities, businesses and others can track and compare facilities' greenhouse-gas emissions and identify opportunities to cut pollution,” Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the EPA, said in a statement accompanying the report.

The accumulation of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, since the Industrial Revolution is causing global temperatures to increase, seas to rise, and extreme storms, droughts and floods to occur more frequently, according to the US Global Change Research Program. Average US temperatures may jump 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2.2 Celsius) in the coming decades, and efforts to combat the effects are insufficient, the government advisory panel said last month.

Proposed regulations

The EPA has already proposed regulations to curb emissions from new power plants, setting a standard that would preclude the construction of new coal-fired facilities that don't capture and sink underground the carbon coming from their smokestacks. Once those rules are finished in the coming weeks, the EPA must move to establish similar rules for existing power plants.

Today's report shows which companies may be the hardest-hit by those regulations. They include Atlanta-based Southern, which operates the two biggest polluters, the Scherer facility near Macon, Georgia, and the James Miller plant in Quinton, Alabama. Tim Leljedal, a company spokesman, said the plants together make enough electricity to power 3.5 million homes.

“The data from the EPA only tell us that these are larger generating facilities,” Leljedal said in an interview. It “says nothing about operating efficiency.”

The third-biggest polluter is Dallas-based Energy Future Holdings' Martin Lake plant in Tatum, Texas. Company officials didn't immediately reply to requests for comment.

For the first time, the EPA also included oil and gas production in its accounting. It's the second-largest source of overall emissions and the biggest source of methane, a more intense greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, although it dissipates more quickly.

“Fortunately, America has smart solutions available to reduce this pollution” said Peter Zalzal, a staff attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund in Boulder, Colorado. They include measures to prevent the waste of natural gas, he said.

Bloomberg