Climate change is affecting Pennsylvania today, and without quick action to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) that cause global warming, our future is at risk.
Pennsylvania has gotten warmer and wetter in recent decades, and scientists predict a future of more extreme heat waves, more extreme rainfall and more drought — with impacts ranging from higher flood risks to threats to public health, agriculture and infrastructure.
Pennsylvania is one of America’s largest sources of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, most of which comes from the burning of fossil fuels, and methane, a climate pollutant more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. The largest sources of methane in Pennsylvania are oil and gas systems and coal mines.
In 2020, Pennsylvania was the fourth-largest greenhouse gas-emitting state in the nation. As a result, the commonwealth has a unique opportunity — and responsibility — to act on climate.
More than 40% of the commonwealth’s greenhouse gas pollution comes from 287 industrial facilities, power plants, mines and other large polluters that are required to report their emissions to the U.S. EPA. Among those facilities, just 12 — Pennsylvania’s “Dirty Dozen” — account for nearly one-fifth of the commonwealth’s total climate pollution. To meet our responsibility to act on climate, Pennsylvania must take strong, quick action to limit pollution from power plants and industrial air polluters, especially the highest polluting facilities.
Industrial facilities and power plants are the biggest sources of climate pollution in Pennsylvania.
In 2020, industrial facilities were responsible for 76.9 million metric tons of GHGs (carbon dioxide equivalent) — 31% of the commonwealth’s total emissions. The industrial and electric power sectors combined added up to 60% of the state’s GHG total. (See Figure ES-2)
The 287 large Pennsylvania facilities required to report their greenhouse gas emissions to the EPA — most of them industrial facilities and power plants — released a total of 110.9 million metric tons of GHGs in 2021, equivalent to about 45% of the commonwealth’s GHG emissions in 2020 (the latest year for which complete data on all of Pennsylvania’s GHG emissions is available).
Just 12 large GHG emitters in Pennsylvania — the “Dirty Dozen” — produce nearly one-fifth of the commonwealth’s climate pollution.8
These Dirty Dozen facilities emitted nearly 46 million metric tons of GHGs in 2021, the equivalent of 18% of the state’s total GHG emissions in 2020.
All but one of the Dirty Dozen facilities are power plants. The state’s top two emitters, the Keystone and Conemaugh coal-fired power plants, released a combined 14 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2021. Emissions from these two facilities in 2021 would have represented 6% of the commonwealth’s total GHG emissions in 2020.
Five of the Dirty Dozen — Lackawanna Energy Center, Hummel Station, CPV Fairview Energy Center, Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station, and Moxie Freedom Generating Station — are gas-powered power plants that have opened since the beginning of 2018, showing the limitations of the transition from coal- to gas-fired power generation for reducing climate pollution.
The one non-power plant facility in the Dirty Dozen is the U.S. Steel Edgar Thomson plant in Allegheny County, which ranks fifth for GHG emissions statewide. In 2021, this facility emitted 3.8 million metric tons of GHGs, which is the CO2 emissions equivalent of burning 4 billion pounds of coal.
Half of the Dirty Dozen facilities are located in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Southwestern Pennsylvania accounted for 44% of greenhouse gas emissions reported by large polluters reporting their GHG emissions to the EPA in 2021 — by far, the largest share of any Pennsylvania region. (See Figure ES-3)
The Pittsburgh and Southwest region is also home to the greatest number of facilities reporting their emissions to the EPA, with 88 out of the 287 facilities reporting statewide, or about 30%.
Industrial facilities releasing greenhouse gases are often major sources of particulate soot, toxic air pollutants, and smog-forming pollutants — pollution that puts the public’s health at immediate risk. The Pittsburgh area, home to more than half of the “Dirty Dozen,” ranks 14th-worst in the country for year-round emissions of particulate pollution according to the American Lung Association.
Industrial facilities other than power plants are also major sources of greenhouse gases. The top 12 industrial emitters in Pennsylvania accounted for nearly 17 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2021. Metals and minerals were the top industrial sources of greenhouse gases.
Consol Energy, Inc. is the parent company of three of the top 12 large industrial emitters — Bailey Mine, Enlow Fork Mine and Harvey Mine — which accounted for 5.7 million metric tons of GHG emissions in 2021. U.S. Steel is the parent company of two other facilities, the Edgar Thomson Steel Works and Clairton Coke Works.
Combined, the five Pennsylvania facilities owned by Consol Energy or U.S. Steel produced more than 10 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution in 2021. That is equivalent to about 4% of Pennsylvania’s total statewide emissions in 2020.
To protect the commonwealth’s future and prevent the worst impacts of global warming, Pennsylvania needs to pursue a long-term and large-scale transition away from the use of fossil fuels, and toward sources that emit low or zero GHGs.
Fortunately, there are deliberate steps that Pennsylvania can take to reduce its contribution to global warming.
Specifically, Pennsylvania should:
- Accelerate the transition to renewable energy. Clean energy sources such as solar and wind power are here and increasingly cost-competitive with electricity from fossil fuels.18 Pennsylvania should commit to obtaining at least 30% of its electricity from clean, renewable sources by 2030 on the way to powering the commonwealth with 100% renewable energy.
- Transition homes, businesses, transportation and industry away from fossil fuels. As Pennsylvania shifts to renewable energy, it is also important that we shift wherever possible from direct combustion of fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas to electricity.
- Continue Pennsylvania’s commitment to, and participation in, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The program is expected to reduce carbon emissions in Pennsylvania by up to 227 million tons by 2030, while generating hundreds of millions of dollars annually for reinvestment that can be used to accelerate the commonwealth’s efforts to reduce emissions and transition away from fossil fuels. However, the program has come under frequent attacks in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Public officials should end those attacks and embrace the program, along with other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the commonwealth.
- Strengthen enforcement of clean air laws. By requiring industrial facilities and power plants to control the health-threatening air pollution they produce, the commonwealth can also encourage them to adopt cleaner, less fossil fuel-intensive processes overall, curbing Pennsylvania’s emissions of greenhouse gases.
- Support environmentally responsible decarbonization of industry. The federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 includes funding to help a variety of industrial sectors reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. The commonwealth should aggressively apply for competitive federal grants and encourage and support industries in obtaining those funds where appropriate, while ensuring that industrial decarbonization efforts lead to real, significant and lasting emission reductions without negative impacts on air quality or public health and safety.
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Tony Dutzik is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. His research and ideas on climate, energy and transportation policy have helped shape public policy debates across the U.S., and have earned coverage in media outlets from the New York Times to National Public Radio. A former journalist, Tony lives and works in Boston.
Executive Director, PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center
As executive director, David spearheads the issue advocacy, civic engagement campaigns, and long-term organizational building for PennEnvironment. He also oversees PennPIRG and other organizations within The Public Interest Network that are engaged in social change across Pennsylvania. David’s areas of expertise include fracking, global warming, environmental enforcement and litigation, and clean energy and land use policy in Pennsylvania. David has served on the environmental transition teams for Gov. Tom Wolf and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and been named one of Pennsylvania’s “40 under 40” environmentalists by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. Under David’s leadership, PennEnvironment has won the two largest citizen suit penalties in Pennsylvania history against illegal polluters under the federal Clean Water Act. David lives in South Philadelphia with his family, where they’re involved in their local elementary school, community garden and civic association.
Deputy Director, PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center
Started on staff: 2018 B.A., Chatham College; Masters of Public Management, Carnegie Mellon University As the deputy director with PennEnvironment, Ashleigh oversees campaigns to protect clean air and clean water in Pennsylvania. She brings more than 15 years of experience in community organizing and government to her work to win policy change and hold decision-makers, agencies and polluters accountable. Most recently, she worked with colleagues and coalition partners to enact a ban on single-use plastic bags in Pittsburgh. Prior to joining PennEnvironment in 2018, Ashleigh served as a chief of staff in Pittsburgh City Council and organized clean air campaigns for Clean Water Action and the Clean Air Task Force. Ashleigh lives in the Pittsburgh region, where she enjoys gardening and engaging with her community.