Companies that put fossil fuels into the economy could be easier to target with policies that help address climate change, according to the author of a recent analysis.
The Greenhouse 100 Suppliers List from the University of Massachusetts Amherst adds up how much companies are contributing to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by producing coal, oil and natural gas. Researchers used data from the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies.
The list also groups suppliers by state. Texas tops the list by a wide margin.
Pennsylvania ranks seventh. Its top suppliers are coal company Consol Energy; Delta Air Lines, which owns an oil refinery outside Philadelphia; and UGI, a gas utility.
Michael Ash, economics and public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said it’s important to show the source of greenhouse gas emissions, not just where the fuels are burned.
Pennsylvania is the 4th-largest carbon dioxide emitter in the country, according to 2021 data from the Energy Information Administration.
Ash said the supply of fossil fuels that eventually produce planet-warming emissions is extremely concentrated; the top 10 companies on the list account for about 40% of supply.
He said the concentration of suppliers opens an opportunity for lawmakers to intervene by targeting regulations and other programs such as carbon-pricing to cut fossil fuels before they enter the economy.
He says the list could also inform a just transition to cleaner energy.
“And so this becomes a planning tool to think about where just transition is needed. Where are we going to need to worry about high quality replacement jobs, about training, about–for older workers, conceivably, subsidized retirement possibilities,” Ash said.
Lara Fowler, Chief Sustainability Officer at Penn State, said the list is consistent with other databases of fossil fuel production. She was not involved in the analysis.
She said it highlights some of the tension happening in the energy transition. For example, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year affected global energy markets. Natural gas prices rose and Pennsylvania drillers briefly picked up the pace of drilling new wells.
Fowler said decision makers should be mindful of who is bearing the cost of energy and who is benefitting.
“Does it drive down the prices in Pennsylvania because we have a bigger supply or you’re mobilizing that gas, putting it in pipelines…to benefit the global market,” Fowler said.
She added the list shows what resources might be available as the energy economy changes.
“I would rather have somebody who’s comfortable with coal mining help me with the process of regenerating communities, helping clean up some of these things,” Fowler said, noting the potential for recovering rare earth minerals from coal waste. “How do we take advantage of that knowledge and do some retraining to help people in our communities have livable jobs while we’re restoring the environment and going after resources we also need?”
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.