This may be the last time for the next four years we can make this announcement: the latest figures from the EPA show US carbon emissions dropped 2.9% from 2014-2015. The cause: less use of coal, a slight drop in electricity use and lower demand for heating fuels because of a warm winter.
Because of cheap natural gas and regulations on mercury and other toxic air pollutants, coal-fired power plants have been closing in droves over the past few years. That’s driven down power sector emissions to the point where, for the first time, they are lower than transportation emissions, says the US Energy Information Agency. And the electric power sector still consumes more energy than transportation.
US emissions are down to 1994 levels.
Meanwhile, the largest coal-fired power plant in the Western US is about to close – the Navajo Generation Station in northern Arizona. Its four utility owners voted to close it in 2019, 25 years ahead of schedule. Sadly, there are 935 jobs at stake, 90% of them Native Americans. Navajo and Hopi tribes were negotiating for higher royalties (the plant and coal mine is on their land) ahead of the lease expiring in 2019. Utilities were also facing expenses from installing pollution control equipment.
The coal mine and power plant are among the biggest pollution sources in the West, littering the atmosphere with 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and 472 million pounds of mercury, selenium and arsenic each year. High concentrations of this toxic mix are found in the rain and in fish in the Grand Canyon. The plant requires 9 billion gallons of water a year from the drought-prone region to operate.
As you can see, the coal plant sits in the center of many of our most treasured national wildlands.
Environmental groups have arranged for a transition to renewable energy when some other mines closed, and there’s plenty opportunity for that in sunny Arizona.
On the other side of the US, Congress just nixed the Obama administration rule that prevents Mountaintop Removal coal companies from dumping their mountains of waste directly in streams. Too expensive, too burdensome to keep their waste a mere 100-feet away from streams.