Empowering the Public through Power Plant Emissions Data

We’ve all heard that “Knowledge is Power.” I think about this phrase a lot in my work here in the Office of Air and Radiation because having access to good, scientifically robust, and relevant data is essential to our work. And because science and transparency are two of our core values, EPA is committed to providing the public with access to reliable data.

So, it is always gratifying to highlight good data on the EPA web site that is both accessible and useful. I encourage you all to check out our newly redesigned and interactive Power Plant Emission Trends page.  On this page you’ll find the most recent 2013 sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions data from power plants, as well as emission data from previous years.

These data show how power plant emissions have changed over time and where those changes have occurred, both geographically and at what power plants. For example, in 2013 SO2 emissions decreased by two percent, NOX emissions were unchanged, and CO2 increased by one percent from 2012 levels, while electricity generation remained generally stable. The data also show longer-term trends: SO2 emissions were 12.5 million tons lower in 2013 than they were in 1990 – a decrease of almost 80 percent – while NOX emissions have dropped by 4.7 million tons, or 73 percent, since 1990.

High quality data are essential for the development of regulatory decisions that are sound and that improve America’s air quality. Good quality data also give the public the information they need to be able to participate meaningfully in the regulatory process and to see how our rules are making a difference in air quality.

The data have to be accessible and easy to understand. People need to be able to interact with it and figure out how it relates to their community and their business. They need to know how it answers their questions and addresses their concerns about the environment.

The redesigned Power Plant Emission Trends page (formerly called the Quarterly Emissions Tracking page) presents the same great current and historical emissions data but in an easier-to-understand and more visually appealing way. For each pollutant, you can easily track and download emissions data for SO2, NOX, and CO2 through 2013. You can use the Google Earth mapping tool to interact with the data and discover how plants near you have decreased or increased their emissions over time.

Finally, for the wonkiest of you all, motion charts are available to explore how emissions, electricity demand (measured as heat input), and emission rates (an indicator of environmental efficiency) have changed at individual facilities over time.

I hope the 2013 power plant emission data and our newly redesigned web page help you better understand trends in SO2, NOX, and CO2 emissions from the power sector. Take a look at the data and let us know what you think.

Janet McCabe is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, having previously served as OAR’s Principal Deputy to the Assistant Administrator. Prior to joining EPA in November 2009, McCabe was Executive Director of Improving Kids’ Environment, Inc., a children’s environmental health advocacy organization based in Indianapolis, Indiana and was an adjunct faculty member at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Public Health.  Ms. McCabe grew up in Washington, D.C. and graduated from Harvard College in 1980 and Harvard Law School in 1983.