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Who are the top climate polluters in the country?

Power plants are some of America's biggest climate polluters. But it doesn't have to be that way.

America’s most polluting power plants emit more greenhouse gas pollution than some entire states. New standards addressing pollution from those plants could make a big difference for the climate.

W.A. Parish power plant in Thompsons, Texas, the fourth-leading climate polluter in the U.S. in 2021

Climate change can feel like an overwhelming problem, in part, because so many of the things we use and activities we do on a daily basis use fossil fuels. 

But a large share of the climate pollution produced in the United States comes from just a handful of big polluting facilities – the vast majority of them electric power plants. With the Biden administration about to propose new standards to reduce emissions from power plants, just how much could we mitigate climate damage by simply requiring the dirtiest polluters to clean up their act? According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the answer is: a lot. 

In 2021, the 50 highest-emitting U.S. facilities released 487.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs, carbon dioxide-equivalent). That’s more pollution than any entire state other than Texas, with those 50 facilities responsible for nearly 9% of the U.S.’s net GHG emissions in 2021. 

Which power plants are worst for the climate?

Power plants dominate the list of the nation’s top greenhouse gas polluters:

  • Ninety percent of the top 50 polluters are power plants that burn coal and/or gas. Together, those 45 power plants emitted 28% of all greenhouse gases from electricity generation nationwide, while generating only 11% of the nation’s power.
  • The number 1 greenhouse gas polluter in the country – the James H. Miller Jr. power plant in Quinton, Ala. –  released nearly 21 million metric tons of GHGs in 2021. That’s more climate pollution than the entire state of Maine produced in 2020. 

The nine power plants among the nation’s top 10 polluters released nearly 129 million metric tons of GHGs in 2021. That’s more pollution from just nine facilities than 36 individual states – including New Jersey, Arizona and Washington – released in 2020.

Emissions from top climate polluters compared with gross emissions from entire states

chart of top U.S. climate polluters

America’s top climate polluters emit more than some entire states.Photo by Frontier Group staff | TPIN

Which industrial polluters contribute most to climate change? 

Power plants aren’t the only industrial facilities producing large volumes of climate pollution. The ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown, Texas, for example, produced 11.8 million metric tons of GHGs (carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2021, ninth-most in the nation, and equal to the amount of emissions produced by 2.6 million of today’s typical passenger cars. 

Four other non-power plant facilities are among the nation’s top 50 emitters: two steel mills (the U.S. Steel facility in Gary, Ind., and the Cleveland-Cliffs facility in Burns Harbor, Ind.), the CF Industries Nitrogen LLC nitrogen fertilizer plant in Donaldsonville, La., and the Ascend Performance Materials LLC (a chemical/synthetic materials producer) facility in Cantonment, Fla. A full list of America’s 50 biggest climate polluters can be found below.

Top 50 climate polluters, 2021

Click here to see America's top 50 climate polluters
Facility Name City State County Total 2021 GHG emissions (metric tons, CO2 equivalent) Industry
James H. Miller Jr. Quinton AL Jefferson       20,998,639 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Labadie Labadie MO Franklin       15,760,177 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Monroe Monroe MI Monroe       14,379,178 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
W. A. Parish Thompsons TX Fort Bend       13,911,354 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Martin Lake Tatum TX Rusk       13,515,092 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
General J. M. Gavin Cheshire OH Gallia       13,478,316 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Oak Grove Franklin TX Robertson       12,617,336 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Prairie State Generating Station Marissa IL Washington       12,496,789 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
ExxonMobil Baytown Site Baytown TX Harris       11,811,121 Petroleum refineries
John E. Amos Winfield WV Putnam       11,528,677 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Sam Seymour La Grange TX Fayette       10,987,388 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Harrison Power Station Haywood WV Harrison       10,953,742 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Jim Bridger Point of Rocks WY Sweetwater       10,830,859 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Cumberland Cumberland City TN Stewart       10,720,120 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
U.S. Steel Corp. – Gary Works Gary IN Lake       10,438,954 Iron and steel mills and ferroalloy manufacturing 
Ghent Ghent KY Carroll       10,385,614 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Colstrip Colstrip MT Rosebud       10,035,340 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Laramie River Wheatland WY Platte         9,868,313 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Cardinal Brilliant OH Jefferson         9,791,031 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Sherburne County Becker MN Sherburne         9,776,192 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Bowen Cartersville GA Bartow         9,496,076 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Coal Creek Underwood ND McLean         9,451,219 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Scherer Juliette GA Monroe         9,420,858 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Hunter Castle Dale UT Emery         9,238,311 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Crystal River Power Plant Crystal River FL Citrus         9,204,483 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
CF Industries Nitrogen, LLC  Donaldsonville Nitrogen Complex Donaldsonville LA Ascension Parish         9,052,754 Nitrogenous fertilizer manufacturing 
Gibson Owensville IN Gibson         8,984,925 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Jeffrey Energy Center St. Marys KS Pottawatomie         8,759,787 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Ascend Performance Materials LLC Cantonment FL Escambia         8,564,795 Plastics material and resin manufacturing 
Springerville Generating Station Springerville AZ Apache         8,499,180 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Petersburg Petersburg IN Pike         8,392,006 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
J. H. Campbell West Olive MI Ottawa         8,350,612 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Thomas Hill Energy Center Clifton Hill MO Randolph         8,257,226 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
J. K. Spruce San Antonio TX Bexar         7,997,807 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Comanche Pueblo CO Pueblo         7,963,532 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
H. L. Spurlock Maysville KY Mason         7,960,447 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Four Corners Steam Electricity Station Fruitland NM San Juan         7,847,371 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Craig Craig CO Moffat         7,831,174 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Cross Pineville SC Berkeley         7,747,272 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Trimble County Bedford KY Trimble         7,732,993 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Cleveland-Cliffs Burns Harbor LLC Burns Harbor IN Porter         7,517,130 Iron and steel mills and ferroalloy manufacturing 
Pleasants Power Station Willow Island WV Pleasants         7,448,325 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
White Bluff Redfield AR Jefferson         7,397,350 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Rush Island Festus MO Jefferson         7,379,800 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Belle River Saint Clair Haven MI Saint Clair         7,334,068 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Keystone Shelocta PA Armstrong         7,267,256 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Mill Creek Louisville KY Jefferson          7,194,246 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
West County Energy Center Loxahatchee FL Palm Beach         7,138,621 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Elm Road Generating Station Oak Creek WI Milwaukee         7,072,418 Fossil fuel electric power generation 
Iatan Generating Station Weston MO Platte         7,035,172 Fossil fuel electric power generation 

Upcoming rules aim to cut power plant emissions

While power plants are the nation’s biggest individual contributors to global warming, things are getting better. Coal-fired electricity, which emits copious amounts of carbon pollution, is on the decline, and was recently surpassed in terms of its share of U.S. electricity production by renewable energy. With the cost of renewable energy falling and the amount of clean wind and solar power on the grid surging, there is simply no excuse for allowing America’s biggest polluters to continue to harm our climate and our health. 

Seeing this opportunity, President Joe Biden is poised to propose greenhouse gas emission standards for existing power plants that could require many of these facilities – which have been polluting our air for decades – to finally clean up their act. The proposed standards would, at long last, force power plant operators to take responsibility for addressing the outsized role they play in disrupting the climate.

Cleaning up dirty power plants on its own isn’t enough to solve climate change. But with a small number of big polluters creating a big share of the problem, strong standards would move us much closer to securing cleaner air and a better future. 

Topics
Authors

Tony Dutzik

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.

Lisa Frank

Executive Director, Washington Legislative Office, Environment America; Vice President and D.C. Director, The Public Interest Network

Lisa directs strategy and staff for Environment America's federal campaigns. She also oversees The Public Interest Network's Washington, D.C., office and operations. She has won millions of dollars in investments in walking, biking and transit, and has helped develop strategic campaigns to protect America's oceans, forests and public lands from drilling, logging and road-building. Lisa is an Oregonian transplant in Washington, D.C., where she loves hiking, running, biking, and cooking for friends and family.

Bryn Huxley-Reicher

Former Policy Analyst, Frontier Group

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