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Mapping the polluters: new tool from EPA points out major emitters locally

EPA's new map of major polluters shows that power plants dominate as major sources. Two thirds of the energy that goes into make electric power is lost before it ever gets to the end user.

Throughout that US, facilities that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year are required to report these pollution volumes to the US Environmental Protection Agency.  The EPA has just released a new interactive map to make this data more accessible and visually understandable.

To put this volume of greenhouse gas pollution in national perspective, adding up all the major sources–those emitting 25,000 metric tons or more per year–account for well over half the entire nation's emissions.

Just over 200 major sources are located in New York, collectively emitting 52 million metric tons per year. More than three fourths of this annual total spews from 89 electricity generating power plants releasing 40 million tons into the air annually.

Three sites in Westchester are among the major polluters including an energy-from-waste power plant that the EPA characterizes–incorrectly in my view–as "other industrial" and not as a"power plant," the Wheelaborator Westchester Facility (Peekskill) at 267,942 metric tons, an "other industrial," American Sugar Refining (Yonkers) at 88,000 metric tons, and a "minerals" operation, LaFarge North American (Buchanan) at 52,000 metric tons.

In Rockland County just across Haverstraw Bay, the Bowline Generating Station, a natural gas fired power plant, spewed 204,000 metric tons in 2011. These are the twin stacks that can be seen from the Croton Landing Park looking to due west across the Hudson River, three and one half miles away across the water, just north of the High Tor peaks. 

To put all this in local perspective, the entire governmental operations of the City of Peekskill (5,887 metric tons), Town of Cortlandt (2,902), and Village of Croton-on-Hudson (1,774) combined emit about 10,500 metric tons per year. These amounts come from the just completed local greenhouse gas inventories for which these municipalities worked closely with each other.  These amounts do not include emissions in those communities outside the direct control of the local governments, such as homes, commercial spaces, or non-governmental institutions such as schools. 

In short, this latest tally from the EPA, as of December 2011, shows how strongly the emission of vast quantities of greenhouse gas pollution is tied directly to the production of electricity in our country and our state. 

Technical notes: It bears repeating here that our current electricity grid system relies on large, centralized power plants that then have to distribute those electrons long distances to end consumers. Of total energy devoted to electricity generation (1,526 TBtu) in New York, only one-third (478 TBtu) reaches end-users, while two-thirds (1,048 TBtu) is lost through inefficiencies in the conversion of fuel to electricity at the plant and line losses enroute to the end user. New York’s conversion losses are typical and comparable to the national pattern. (TBtu = trillion British thermal units) [Source: NYSERDA Patterns and Trends: New York State Energy Profiles: 1995-2009 (January 2011)]. Regarding units, 1 metric ton = 1,000 kilograms= 2,204 pounds (US) = 1.102 short tons (US). Regarding emissions, the following gases are tracked and reported: carbon dioxide (CO2,), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hexafluoroethane (C2F6), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), fluoroform (CHF3),  and other hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons, in short all man-made emissions that have global warming potential.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jeff Kent January 14, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Just for the record, Indian Point puts out zero greenhouse gas emissions...
Peter Marengo January 14, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Alternatives are obviously not at levels necessary to be economically viable. What is most concerning is what the EPA and their nameless, unaccountable bureaucrats will do.
Leo Wiegman January 14, 2012 at 09:33 PM
@Mr Kent: Just for the record, the operation of Indian Point does emit greenhouse gases. These emissions happen to not quite reach the large threshold of 25,000 metric tons per year that require reporting the EPA. Here is my simple proof. Add up all the vehicles used to maintain and operate IP2 and IP3. Add up all space heating for the buildings that use natural gas. Add up all the emissions incurred in all mineral extraction processes used to refine the nuclear material that is the fuel for IP2 and IP3. Add up all the transportation emissions to bring all the supplies and fuel from all over the nation (and beyond) to IP2 and IP3. Nuclear power is NOT zero emissions. It never has been and never will be.
Jeff Kent January 14, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Point taken...but I guess people drive their cars to solar plants etc. also so nothing will ever be zero emissions.
Leo Wiegman January 14, 2012 at 09:44 PM
@ Mr Marengo: Just for the record, the reporting of emission pollution of greater than 25,000 metric tons per year was set in motion in 2008 during President George Bush's final year in office. The negative impact on air quality of the large coal-fired power plants in skyrocketing asthma rates and other concerns led to these requirements. The EPA can only do what Congress and the President authorize it to do. In this case, we–the people–have asked someone (the EPA) to keep track of who is putting what kind of pollution into the air we all breathe.
Peter Marengo January 14, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Respectfully, the EPA do not answer to the executive branch, they answer to themselves and since most of these officials are not from the private industry, they typically enact rules that hurts industry and therefore the entire economy. "We the people" have absolutely no direct say. BTW, how come legendary smog in cities like LA and Denver have dissipated? It's because our industries have become more clean and efficient through aspects of the free market. But it's not enough I guess. How about calling out China? I am sure they are far worse then we are in their emissions. And they probably couldn't care less!
john January 14, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Mr. Marengo, Mr. Wiegman will never call out a major polluter like China. Here's why: http://ossining.patch.com/blog_posts/lets-celebrate-interdependence-day-this-4th-of-july
Issy January 15, 2012 at 12:04 AM
There is no evidence that EPA regulations are a net determent to the economy. This is just meaningless hyperbole. The long term health and environmental effects from polluting industries far exceed any economic benefit. Superfund sites are prime example of what industry does without EPA regulation and we are now facing changes to our climate due to pollution.
Dani Glaser January 16, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Leo, great article. I have a question about Wheelabrator in the paragraph below: "Three sites in Westchester are among the major polluters including an energy-from-waste power plant that the EPA characterizes–incorrectly in my view–as "other industrial" and not as a"power plant," the Wheelaborator Westchester Facility (Peekskill) at 267,942 metric tons, an "other industrial," American Sugar Refining (Yonkers) at 88,000 metric tons, and a "minerals" operation, LaFarge North American (Buchanan) at 52,000 metric tons." I just want to clarify that Cortlandt's waste and recycling efforts produce negative emissions but the Wheelabrator plant itself is emitting 267,942 metric tons of co2. Please explain the process so I can better understand this. Thanks!
Leo Wiegman January 16, 2012 at 02:15 PM
@Dani: Great question! The Wheelaborator energy from waste plant in Peekskill does emit GhG, because it burns waste, principally carbon dioxide. The towns that send their waste to Wheelaborator do so instead of sending their waste to a landfill. Landfilling is a huge source of GhG, methane in particular, from the anaerobic digestion that occurs when waste is buried. Methane is a gas that has a global warming potential that is many many times higher than carbon dioxide (23 times higher within 100 years relative to CO2). So every ton of waste burned creates a certain amount of GhG (via CO2). And every ton of waste that is landfilled, which is the default norm in the US, creates methane. Assuming the emission volume is the same (for sake of simplicity), landfilling produces 23 times as much GhG as energy-from-waste incineration. So diverting your municipal solid waste lowers the expected GhG (from landfilling default) to much less. On top of that, the energy from waste facility at Wheelaborator produces 500MW of power, without requiring any new natural gas, coal or oil be burned. So in sum, energy-from-waste is a net emisisons reducer (no methane and no added fossil fuels over the alternative more common methods of solid waste disposal). It's like earning an emissions credit for not landfilling.
toxicfreeplaygrounds February 23, 2012 at 08:23 PM
In addition to the big greenhouse gas emitters, light industrial polluters are a serious concern as well. For example, there are several automotive shops including a toxic bodyshop just a few hundred feet from the Kitterell Park playground and pool in White Plains. When the wind blows from the west, dangerous chemicals rain down on our children: http://youtu.be/dTOWmB9DEuk We should be very worried about the health of our children in Kitterell Park.

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