National Environmental Trust
Three simple measures would reduce U.S. greenhouse emissions
NET report ranks utilities by greenhouse gas emissions, shows we can cut to 1990 levels through energy efficiency and no lifestyle changes
December, 1997 Contrary to the claims of the fossil fuel industry, NET's study of electric power plants finds the U.S. could make significant reductions in its greenhouse gas emissions in a very simple way through energy efficiency.
Electric utilities could bring U.S. carbon dioxide emissions below 1990 levels one key target if all their power plants just burned as efficiently as the best ones do now, according to "Powering the Future: Clean Energy for a Clean Environment."
Add the energy savings from better maintenance of existing cars and light trucks, and the savings from more efficient appliances that Congress has sought for a decade, and the U.S. could reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to 9 percent below 1990 levels. (Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the principal human cause of the greenhouse effect, as the gas builds up in the atmosphere and traps the sun's heat.)
"Scientists are telling us that global warming will bring severe weather, coastal flooding, crop failures, and extinctions of familiar plants and animals," said Philip E. Clapp, President of National Environmental Trusts. "This report shows that targets for reducing these problems are achievable, and that technology that exists today could get us there."
With the Kyoto agreement, President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore will have to devise strategies to bring U.S. greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels. "Powering the Future" identifies a common-sense solution that would allow the Administration to keep promises made by Clinton, Gore, and President Bush before them: improving the energy efficiency of our power plants. It ranks coal- and gas-fired electric plants the largest single source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by how much carbon dioxide they contribute to global warming. It finds they vary widely, and suggests that even without changing the fuel they burn or reducing their power output, they could do far better. For example:
"These figures should help electric utilities focus on reducing their own impact on global warming," Clapp said. "In fact, we think every electric customer ought to have this kind of plant-by-plant information, so we can shop for the lowest-impact source of power for our own homes and businesses once we get that choice."
Nationally, 55% of America's electric power is generated by burning coal, which releases more carbon dioxide per unit of electricity than any other fuel. Utilities report their fuel use, carbon dioxide emissions, and power generation to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy. EIC based "Powering the Future" on the 1995 data.
Among the report's other major findings:
"Simply by taking these common-sense steps, the United States could lead the world in reducing human-caused climate change," said Clapp. "Meanwhile, we could proceed to research and market even better ways of generating energy that produce no greenhouse gases at all. That includes the goal of 'a million solar rooftops' that President Clinton announced this summer, and more wind-powered electric generation, which is now cost-competitive with natural gas."
For further comment, please contact Tom Natan, Research
Director of the National Environmental Trust at 202-887-8800.
NET is a national non-profit environmental group founded
in 1994 to educate the public about environmental issues