Oct. 24--New Jersey power plants cut their carbon-based emissions by 11 percent in 2012, the second consecutive double-digit decline of a pollutant that traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.
The reductions were most significant at two of PSE&G's coal-burning plants, in Jersey City and Hamilton, where the company has invested $1.6 billion in recent years to install emissions control equipment. The Jersey City facility saw a 66 percent decline in carbon emissions in 2012, while the Hamilton facility's carbon emissions dropped 54 percent, according to data released Wednesday by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Public Service Electric and Gas has installed scrubbers, filters and other equipment designed to reduce emissions of several greenhouse gases -- sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide -- as well as soot, said company spokeswoman Nancy Tucker-Datrio. Those systems have also helped reduce carbon emissions.
In addition, because natural gas has dropped in price, the Jersey City facility has switched from using coal to gas, which burns cleaner. A similar scenario has played out nationwide. Since 2010, power plants have reduced carbon emissions by 10 percent, due to investments in equipment to capture emissions as well as a shift by some coal-fired power plants to natural gas. Still, fossil-fuel-burning power plants account for about 40 percent of all U.S. carbon pollution: Nearly 1,600 fossil fuel-burning power plants in the country tracked by the EPA emitted more than 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012.
The new data come just a month after the EPA proposed new rules to limit carbon emissions from new power plants, part of President Obama's bid to address climate change. A similar rule will be issued in June for existing power plants. The Obama administration hopes to get the rules vetted and put in place before he leaves office in three years.
"EPA is supporting President Obama's climate action plan by providing the high-quality data necessary to help guide common-sense solutions to address climate change," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement announcing the 2012 emissions data.
The power industry has argued that no proven, commercially viable and affordable technology currently exists to capture and store carbon emitted by power plants.
PSE&G has said it believes its gas-burning power plants will have little trouble meeting the new rules. New Jersey already has rules in place limiting such emissions.
Carbon pollution, rather than affecting air quality directly, works like a blanket suspended in the atmosphere that traps heat and prevents its escape. The trapped heat raises air and ocean temperatures, which melts polar ice, raising sea levels. Sea levels have risen as much as 16 inches along parts of the New Jersey coast over the past century, and are expected to rise another foot by 2050, which can make the damage from even moderate storms that much more devastating, as coastal towns experienced a year ago when Superstorm Sandy pushed a tidal surge across the barrier islands.
More energy in the atmosphere also can produce more intense storms.
The data released Wednesday do not capture all carbon emissions -- small industrial sites and vehicle emissions are not included.
In New Jersey, carbon emissions declined by 11 percent in 2012 to 24 million metric tons, from 27 million a year earlier. Power plants still reported the bulk of emissions _ 15 million metric tons, down 6 percent from the prior year. In fact, power plants were four of the top five carbon emitters in the state.
The largest emitter of carbon statewide in 2012 was PSE&G's Bergen Generating Station in Ridgefield, which burns natural gas. The plant emitted 2.5 million metric tons, up 1 percent from 2011.
The other top emitters in North Jersey included the 1-E Landfill in North Arlington, which emitted 56,580 metric tons of carbon, up slightly from the 54,566 metric tons the prior year. Landfills emit greenhouse gases when the garbage breaks down beneath the cap. Marcal's paper manufacturing facility in Elmwood Park emitted 57,421 metric tons in 2012, down slightly from the year before.
New Jersey's second-largest category of carbon emitters after power plants is the refining industry. The state's four large refineries combined for 4.6 million metric tons, a slight decline. The Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery in Linden was the second-largest carbon emitter in the state, with 2.3 million metric tons.
The overall reductions in carbon emissions brought praise from the environmental movement. The data show us that "we're on the right track to ensuring a healthy and safe future for our children and our nation," Michael Brune, the Sierra Club's executive director, said in a statement.
"The EPA's new data demonstrates what millions of Americans already know," Brune said. "We can, and we already are, lowering dangerous pollution and improving the economy by reducing our dependence on dirty fossil fuels."
Email: oneillj@northjersey Twitter: @JamesMONeill1
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Original headline: NJ power plants reduce greenhouse-gas emissions
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