Nearly half of the top 12 polluters in Pennsylvania are based in the Pittsburgh region, according to a new report from the climate advocacy group PennEnvironment.
But the list, released earlier this week, may already be out of date.
With data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PennEnvironment examined carbon and methane emissions from the state’s 12 top polluters — the so-called “Dirty Dozen.”
The most recent numbers available from the EPA, however, date back to 2021. Ashleigh Deemer, PennEnvironment’s deputy director of research and policy and an author of the study, points to changes that have taken place in the years since, like the launch of Shell’s ethane cracker in Beaver County.
“Just looking at the permit data from Shell’s application to the DEP, I think — we can’t say for sure — but we would expect that to come onto the list, and may be near the top,” Deemer said.
The $6 billion plant, which began operations in November, uses ethane — a component of natural gas — to produce plastic pellets.
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The list as it stands now includes five plants from the Pittsburgh region: the Keystone Generation Station, Conemaugh, Homer City, U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works and Seward Generation.
Combined, the plants accounted for 44% of the 46 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses emitted in Pennsylvania in 2021.
Keystone, located about an hour east of the city, in Armstrong County, contributed the largest share of emissions in the entire state, releasing 7.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Deemer pointed to Keystone as another example of how the list might soon change: the plant is expected to decommission its coal-fired generators by 2028.
But she warned transitioning from coal to natural gas, as many plants have as a bridge to reducing climate emissions, won’t necessarily alleviate the problem.
“Five of the top 12 facilities on this list are actually gas-powered plants,” Deemer said. “So we really need to be moving to renewables rather than gas.”
The biggest opportunity to reduce emissions, according to Deemer, is in the power sector.
“Because we do know that renewable energy technologies like solar and wind are proven, and we know that we can power Pennsylvania and every ounce of electricity that we need here with those technologies,” she added. “But we have not made that commitment yet as a state, and we really need to.”
In a statement, State Representative La’Tasha D. Mayes charged lawmakers with an obligation to lead that shift by holding corporations “accountable for the ways they jeopardize our health for profit.”
That move could be accelerated in the coming days, when the EPA is expected to publish the first draft of a new regulation to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants. Coal and natural gas plants could have to cut all of their carbon dioxide emissions by 2040.
Deemer said PennEnvironment looks forward to working with the public to provide the EPA with comments in an effort to make the regulation “the best it can be.”