LANSING – Unlike fine wines, coal power plants don’t get better with age.
According to a new report by the Ann Arbor-based Environment Michigan, American power plants built before 1980 accounted for 73 percent of all carbon dioxide pollution emitted by plants, with coal operations as the primary culprits.
Environment Michigan is an advocacy and research organization.
Despite the environmental risks of these aging plants, the nation still relied on them for two-thirds of its fossil-fuel electricity in 2007.
Michigan power plants ranked 12th in the nation in carbon dioxide emissions, producing nearly 79 million tons in 2007 while a Monroe coal-fired plant was named 7th-dirtiest in the country.
Although natural gas and petroleum plants contributed to carbon dioxide levels, coal plants were responsible for more than 80 percent of all plant pollution, according to the group’s report.
Shelley Vinyard, program associate with Environment Michigan, said it’s time for older plants to clean up their acts before doing further damage.
“In order to stop global warming and reap all the benefits of clean energy, we must require old coal-fired clunkers to meet modern standards for global warming pollution,” Vinyard said.
“Another thing we called for in the report is for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. It’s a very important part of reducing our carbon footprint.”
In 2007, power plants released 2.56 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or 42 percent of the nation’s total carbon emissions.
Reducing carbon dioxide pollution will not only preserve the ozone layer and slow global warming, but it could curb public health costs, said Charles Morris, founder of the Wyandotte-based Michigan Interfaith Power and Light.
Michigan Interfaith is a statewide coalition of churches that promotes energy conservation, energy efficiency and other sustainable practices.
Just as when Henry Ford sparked Michigan’s industrial renaissance with the invention of the assembly line, the state needs similar ingenuity based upon smart power grids and battery powered cars to move towards a clean-energy economy, Morris said.
“There’s a moral obligation in energy stewardship,” Morris said. “It’s really a matter of imagination. There’s a way we could use other systems.”
Morris said the state spends $24 billion a year on fossil fuels, so it’s in its best economic interest to move away from them, especially coal.
“There are other costs like public health costs and costs in terms of the ozone layer,” Morris said. “Emissions contribute to all that.”
Vinyard said she expects the U.S. Senate to vote on legislation this spring that would establish the country’s first-ever limits on global warming pollution, along with standards and incentives for clean energy.
Vinyard said she’s optimistic that something will get passed in the near future.
“I think we’re doing as much as we can,” Vinyard said. “We just need to continue letting our legislators know that we want a strong climate bill passed.”