Online database provides a global glance at warming gases

By The Washington Post and The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Developing countries — China, South Africa and India — host the world’s five dirtiest utility companies in terms of global-warming pollution, according to the first worldwide database of power plants’ carbon-dioxide emissions, while a single Southern Co. plant in Juliet, Ga., emits more annually than Brazil’s entire power sector.

The database was unveiled Wednesday by the Washington-based Center for Global Development, a policy and research organization. It provides a detailed inventory of power plants’ greenhouse-gas emissions by region across the globe.

The interactive online database shows the United States as the world’s biggest carbon dioxide (CO{-2}) emitter and how quickly it will be outpaced by rapidly industrializing nations.

While the United States produces the most carbon dioxide from electricity generation, releasing 2.8 billion tons of CO{-2} a year, China is close to overtaking it, with its 2.7 billion tons. Moreover, China plans to build or expand 199 coal-fired facilities in the next decade, compared with the United States’ 83.

The Web site containing the Carbon Monitoring for Action database, or CARMA (, proclaims itself “the world’s best place for power-plant voyeurism.”

It includes information from 4,000 utilities and 50,000 plants, shows the biggest CO{-2} emitters and the facilities and companies that are most green, releasing little if any carbon.

“We’re trying to provide complete, balanced information. It’s an open site,” said David Wheeler, a senior researcher at the Center for Global Development, where he directed creation of the database.

Using an array of information filters, a database user can find out how much carbon dioxide comes from electricity plants in a particular city or county, in a congressional district, from a specific company or an individual plant.

Frank O’Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, called the new analysis “pretty shocking.” “If we’re serious about dealing with global warming, we are going to have to get a handle on coal-burning electric power in this country,” he said.

Duke Energy Chairman and President James Rogers — whose company is the third-largest carbon-dioxide-emitting utility in the country and 12th in the world — agreed with that assessment.

“I have a special responsibility to work on this issue because my company’s carbon footprint is so big,” he said. But Rogers added that the fact that certain regions are more dependent on coal than others means he would oppose any effort to auction off carbon allowances, as envisioned in a new bill authored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va.

That could raise rates for Duke’s Indiana customers by 35 percent by 2012, Rogers said, and amounts to a tax.

“The whole point of cap-and-trade is to put a price on carbon so we can make good economic decisions in the future,” he said. “It’s not about punishing people for making decisions 40 years ago.”

Southern Co. spokesman Mike Tyndall said his company’s emissions were high “simply because of the size of the plants” and because “we’re serving a ever-larger population.” While the company opposes a mandatory cap on emissions, Tyndall said, “we’re at the forefront of developing new technology to address CO{-2} emissions.”

The Ohio River Valley, the Southeast and Texas rank as the dirtiest U.S. regions in terms of greenhouse gas-emitting power plants.

Wheeler, a former World Bank economist, said his research highlights the extent to which industrialized and developing nations need to cut their carbon-dioxide emissions to avert drastic climate change.

“It’s a question of mutual survival,” Wheeler said. “Each side is emitting enough to sink everything.”

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