Pennsylvania is the third most polluted state in the nation when it comes to global warming-causing emissions from power plants, according to a report released Tuesday by environmental advocacy organization PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center.
According to the study, titled "America's Dirtiest Power Plants," Pennsylvania's power plants are its single largest source of carbon pollution, responsible for 48 percent of statewide emissions and producing as much carbon each year as 24.9 million cars.
"America's dirtiest power plants are the elephant in the room when it comes to global warming," said PennEnvironment climate change and clean energy associate Elowyn Corby in a statement.
"If we want a cleaner, safer future for our kids, we can't afford to ignore power plants' overwhelming contribution to global warming."
Researchers said in a release that scientists predict the extreme weather events that have slammed Pennsylvania in recent years will only become more frequent and severe unless there are cuts to "the dangerous carbon pollution fueling the problem."
"We cannot afford any further delays in limiting the carbon pollution that increases the risk of floods, powerful storms and dangerous heat waves," campaign representative for the Johnstown area Sierra Club Tom Schuster said in a statement.
According to Dr. Robert Little, who practices family medicine at Pinnacle Health Family Care, unmitigated warming pollution leads to a host of public health risks.
"Rising carbon dioxide, CO2, contributes to global warming and it will cause more illness: asthma, infectious diseases and heat stroke," Little said in a statement.
The report illustrating the scale of carbon pollution from Pennsylvania's power sector comes as the Obama administration prepares a new set of rules to tackle global warming.
President Obama this summer directed the Environmental Protection Agency to propose limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, which are the largest single source of carbon pollution in the country.
The EPA is expected to propose an updated rule cutting carbon pollution from new power plants Sept. 29.
Pennsylvanians have already submitted more than 200,000 public comments in support of limiting carbon pollution from power plants.
"Coal-fired plants with technologies and equipment based in the 1940s do not belong in the 21st century energy portfolio of Pennsylvania," Lackawanna River Corridor Association executive director Bernie McGurl said in a statement.
"We support the work needed to reclaim the environments of Pennsylvania watersheds and communities from the legacy of the coal industry while we protect our land, air and water resources from potential problems associated with the gas production industry."
The PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center is calling on state leaders like U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey to support limits on power plants’ carbon pollution.
The organization is also advocating for state-level strategies to avoid climate change's worst impacts, such as increasing the share of renewable energy in Pennsylvania's portfolio and making the state a leader in green building standards.
“I don’t think we want a summer climate in Pennsylvania similar to what Alabama has now, but that’s what we can expect without emissions reductions,” Professor Raymond Najjar of Pennsylvania State University's Department of Meteorology said in a statement.
“We’ve made changes before to clean our air and water, saving lives and money. It’s time to do the same thing with global warming pollution."
Most odious offenders
The report noted, overall, the country's 50 dirtiest power plants –despite producing 30 percent of all power-sector carbon dioxide emissions – produced just 16 percent of the nation's electricity in 2011.
In fact, if the 50 most polluting U.S. power plants were an independent nation, they would be the seventh largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, according to the study.
Four Pennsylvania power plants ranked among the 50 most polluting in the nation, while seven power plants in the Keystone state were given the dubious honor of being on the list of the country's 100 most polluting power plants.
Pennsylvania's top five worst offenders in a ranking of national plants are:
8: FirstEnergy Bruce Mansfield in Shippingport
40: Hatfield's Ferry Power Station in Masontown
47: The Keystone Generating Station in Plumcreek Township
48:The Conemaugh Generating Station near New Florence
54: The Homer City Generating Station in Indiana County