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  March 2, 2018

Electric Power Companies Top the List of Greenhouse Gas Emitters

The top three companies on the newest edition of PERI's Greenhouse 100 Index are all electric power generators, and they're responsible for a full five percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, says researcher Michael Ash
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SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Researchers Michael Ash and Jim Boyce at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, have published new editions of the Greenhouse 100 Index, ranking U.S. companies by their emissions, which are driving global climate change. And they have also released the Toxic 100 Air and Toxic 100 Water Indexes, ranking U.S. industrial polluters by using U.S. EPA Toxic Release Inventory. PERI Indexes include environmental justice indicators to assess impact on low income people and minorities.

Now with us to discuss the new indexes, we are joined by one of the researchers of the report, Michael Ash. He is Professor of economics and public policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Michael, we are very pleased you can join us today.

MICHAEL ASH: Thanks Sharmini for having me on.

SHARMINI PERIES: Michael, let's first examine which companies are contributing the most in terms of greenhouse gases and driving climate change in the process, and why them and not those companies that one would consider as usual suspects when it comes to fossil fuel emissions, such as say Exxon Mobil?

MICHAEL ASH: Well, the way we're ranking companies, the way that Greenhouse 100 looks at companies' contribution to greenhouse gases, is the actual emissions from those companies. So at the absolute top of the list are electric power generators. These are companies that own, in many cases, dozens, many 10s of electrical power plants all over the United States, and they emit an enormous quantity of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide. They do this because they burn fuels to generate electrical power.

So we're not taking a look at the pass-through. Exxon Mobil's a great question. We're not taking a look at the amount of fuels that are passed into the economy that then end up getting burned in individual's cars, individual household cars all over the country. We're really looking at companies that did their own emissions of greenhouse gases. And the top of the list is dominated by electric power generators. It's extraordinary that the top three generators of greenhouse gases in the U.S. are responsible for fully five percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That's five percent of, again all of the company emissions, all of the automobile emissions, all of the agricultural emissions, five percent from the top three companies. It's really a fairly extraordinary concentration, and that's largely from electrical power generation.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, mention the companies, what they do and why they're on top of the list.

MICHAEL ASH: So at the very top of the Greenhouse 100, which again lists the companies that are most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, are three electrical power producers. There's Duke Energy, there's American Electric Power, and there's Southern Company. Those constitute the top three on the Greenhouse 100.

Why are they there? They're there frankly because we use a lot of electric power, and these companies own many facilities that generate electric power by burning fossil fuels. So these companies burn coal, natural gas, oil. That combustion produces greenhouse gases. Those three companies have large, large networks of generators all over the country, and they again, those three are responsible for a full five percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. It's really quite an extraordinary concentration at the top of the list.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, I'm not sure whether you went into this in your report, but how aware are they of the contribution that they are making in terms of these gases in our air?

MICHAEL ASH: Well, these companies have reported their emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency. So if they are keeping an eye on their greenhouse gas emissions, I certainly hope that they are, they should be aware of the contribution that they're making. Why it's important to focus on these very large emitters at the top of the list is because fairly small changes in corporate policy at these very, very large emitters, could make an enormous difference in greenhouse gas emissions. We don't need to reform greenhouse gas emitters all over the list of greenhouse gas emissions, if we work on very large emitters, if we improve the performance of our electrical power grid, if we moved more extensively towards green energy, we could make a very large dent in the U.S. contribution to greenhouse gases, which is an extremely large, the United States is a very large contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

SHARMINI PERIES: And what does the EPA do with this information? Is there any recourse to these companies? I mean, of course, they are reporting and they collect this information, but what does the EPA do with it?

MICHAEL ASH: So the EPA is authorized to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as a matter of pollution. So I believe the EPA won a case that gave it the right to regulate greenhouse gases. So EPA has the possibility to do a lot of regulation of the gases that are coming out from these companies, the greenhouse gases that these companies emit. In the current climate, I think the EPA has greatly reduced ... In the current political climate, the EPA has greatly reduced its purview for action on greenhouse gas emission. So at the moment we are able to use this information on greenhouse gas emissions, but it's really up to other stakeholders. It's up to socially responsible investors who may be concerned about the future impact of greenhouse gas emissions on corporate performance to take action. It's up to activists, it's up to regulators to take action on these greenhouse gas emissions. So EPA does have the authority to act, in the current political climate we're not seeing a lot of movement from EPA on regulating these emissions, and so we really have to take advantage of the information that this greenhouse gas reporting puts in front of us, to take action where it's possible.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, if the EPA is a designated watchdog on this and they are not taking action, and of course activists and environmental organizations are maybe screaming, but are there any legal recourse for the public or advocacy organizations to make sure that the EPA complies with their responsibilities here?

MICHAEL ASH: Well, I think that the critical issue here is getting this information out and then allowing a variety of stakeholders to make use of the information as it sees fit. So I think we're starting to see very interesting movement at the local level on regulation of greenhouse gases from state and local regulators. I think we're increasingly going to see action from shareholders who are concerned about the long run viability of firms that are highly dependent on, at the moment highly dependent on, greenhouse gas emissions, but firms that could change if their investors demanded change. So I think that we have a range of possible responses. Obviously federal action is something that we'll need to rely on very heavily going forward, and at the moment we're not seeing a lot of leadership there.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, researchers at PERI, Michael Ash and Jim Boyce, they have produced several indexes and at the Greenhouse 100 Index, which ranks U.S. companies by their greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change, is what we have just discussed. There's so much more to discuss in terms of your other indexes, Michael. We want to invite you back to continue this discussion, and we hope you can join us then.

MICHAEL ASH: It would be my pleasure. Thanks Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.


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