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Michelle Hesterberg,
Environment Minnesota

New Report: Sherburne County Coal Plant Near Becker Is Dirtiest in Minnesota

For Immediate Release

The Sherburne County coal-fired power plant near Becker, MN is the dirtiest power plant in Minnesota based on carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution ranking it as the 13th dirtiest plant in the country for 2007, according to a new analysis of government data released today by Environment Minnesota. 

“It's time for the oldest and dirtiest power plants to clean up their act,” said Environment Minnesota Associate Samantha Chadwick.  “Coal-fired giants have dominated our electricity for decades and have been allowed to pollute without license.  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.”

Coal is the dirtiest of all fuels, but it supplies more of America's electricity than any other source.  Coal plants currently do not have to meet any global warming pollution standard, meaning that they are an unchecked contributor to global warming.  In fact, coal plants are the nation’s single largest source of global warming pollution.  

The growing impacts of global warming will impose threats to our safety and immense financial cost on our society, and most notably for Minnesota more frequent and extreme droughts, as rainfall declines and warmer temperatures evaporate moisture in the soil more quickly. To avoid the worst effects of global warming, the science shows that the United States must cut its global warming pollution by 35 percent by 2020.

The new report from Environment Minnesota, “America's Biggest Polluters: Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Power Plants in 2007,” looks at carbon dioxide emissions from power plants across the country using 2007 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; 2007 is the most recent year for which final data is available.  The report examines both age of and pollution from power plants to document the fact that we are reliant on an energy infrastructure that is both old and polluting. 

The key findings include the following:

  • Until recently Minnesota was home to the 8th oldest operating power plant in the country.  The High Bridge plant in St. Paul had been operating for 60 years, built within a decade of the television first becoming commercially available.  Many of the plants in Minnesota are decades-old. In fact, 12 of Minnesota’s 25 plants were built before 1980.
  • The Sherburne County power plant located near Becker in Minnesota ranked as the 13th dirtiest power plant in the country in 2007 based on its carbon dioxide emissions.  The plant has been in operation since 1976 before Jimmy Carter became President, and produces the same amount of global warming pollution in a year as 3.2 million of today’s cars.

Nationally, the report shows that America's power is dominated by old and polluting plants, and that the oldest and dirtiest plants often go hand-in-hand.  Power plants built three decades ago or more produced 73 percent of the total global warming pollution from power plants in 2007.  Older power plants on average are dirtier per unit of energy than newer ones.

“America's power is both decades-old and dangerously polluting.  We’re reliant on technology that’s as old as the very first commercially available televisions.  Televisions have gone from black-and-white clunkers to super high-definition flat screens, but they’re still powered by the same dirty electricity,” Chadwick said.

“Clean energy holds the future of America—to make our nation energy independent, create millions of new jobs, and stop the worst effects of global warming.  In order to realize this clean energy future, coal plants must stop polluting with impunity,” continued Chadwick.

The U.S. Senate is slated to consider legislation in the next few months to establish the first-ever federal limits on global warming pollution and standards and incentives for clean energy.  In addition, EPA has proposed a rule to require coal plants and other large smokestack industries to use available technology to cut their global warming pollution when new facilities are constructed or existing facilities are significantly modified. 

However, the coal industry is fighting the transition to clean energy.  The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry lobby group, spent at least $40 million dollars in 2008 alone – more than $100,000 a day – on lobbyists and advertising on energy.  Earlier this year, they hired lobbyists who forged phony constituent letters to Congress opposing action on clean energy.

“We urge Senators Klobuchar and Franken to vote for a strong clean energy bill that will cut global warming pollution and create clean energy jobs,” concluded Chadwick.