Alabama coal plant still the largest greenhouse gas emitter in United States

For the seventh year in a row, the largest source of global warming greenhouse gases in the United States is a coal-fired power plant in Alabama.

Alabama Power’s James H. Miller Jr. Power Plant in Jefferson County emitted more greenhouse gases in 2021 than any other power plant, oil and gas refinery or plant in the country, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Plant Miller, located about 20 miles outside of Birmingham, has topped the list every year since 2015.

In 2021, Miller emitted nearly 21 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (or CO2 equivalent), 5 million tons more than the next facility on the list, a coal-fired power plant in Missouri.

Plant Miller is not the largest coal plant in the country by total capacity, but Allison Tucker, media relations manager for Alabama Power, said the plant is at the top of the list because it is a large plant with a long history.

“Plant Miller is an efficient, low-cost power producer, and it’s on this kind of list primarily because it’s a very large plant — one of the largest in the country — with a safe and reliable uptime that exceeds other power plants.” Tucker said via email.

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Tucker said Alabama Power has reduced carbon emissions at other facilities around the state.

“As a company, we have achieved a significant reduction in carbon emissions – 36 percent across our production fleet from 2007 to 2021 – and expect further reductions in carbon emissions over time,” Tucker said.

Many large coal-fired power plants across the country have been decommissioned or converted to run on lower-carbon natural gas, including in Alabama.

According to NASA, gases such as CO2, methane and chlorofluorocarbons trap heat in the atmosphere and have contributed to an increase in global temperatures of about 1 degree Celsius.

Many utilities, including Southern Company, Alabama Power’s parent organization, have committed to reducing carbon emissions in the future.

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Miller’s emissions have remained relatively stable since 2010, ranging from 17 to 22 million tons of carbon emissions between 2010 and 2021, while many other large plants have fallen from the top of the list due to closures or conversion to natural gas.

Tucker said there has been no announcement that Plant Miller is retiring or switching to natural gas, even though Southern Company, Alabama Power’s parent group, has set a goal of achieving zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Charlene White, senior spokesperson for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, said Alabama Power’s continued reliance on coal is harming the planet by continuing to emit such high levels of greenhouse gases when cleaner options are available.

“What Plant Miller really represents is the new climate change denial: climate delay,” Whyte said via email. “Unfortunately, we can’t buy back time. The longer Plant Miller runs, the more irreversible damage it will do to the environment, people and customers’ wallets.

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Whyte said that while Southern Company has committed to zero carbon emissions by 2050, the company and its subsidiaries, such as Alabama Power, have not done enough on that promise.

“Southern Company would like us to believe that they are truly fighting climate change by committing to zero carbon emissions by 2050, but it’s hard to reconcile the overall urgency when they won’t even consider being the No. 1 greenhouse gas polluter anytime in the next 20 years ,” Whyte said.

“At the end of the day, Southern Company has to get out of the coal business. Coal pollution makes breathing difficult and causes asthma in our children, and the coal ash left behind threatens the safety of our water supply. We now have the technology to transition to a clean energy economy. We just have to keep pushing Southern Company to do the right thing.

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