Full Title: Air Emissions and Electricity Generation at U.S. Power Plants
Author(s): Government Accountability Office
Publisher(s): Government Accountability Office
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
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The United States depends on a variety of fuels to generate electricity, including fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil), nuclear power, and renewable sources. Power plants that burn fossil fuels provide about 70 percent of U.S. electricity, but they also produce substantial amounts of harmful air emissions. In particular, electricity generating units at fossil fuel power plants are among the largest emitters of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which have been linked to respiratory illnesses and acid rain, as well as of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Of the three fossil fuels, coal is the most widely used fuel in the United States, providing about 45 percent of electricity in 2010, followed by natural gas, which provided about 24 percent. Coal plays a critical role in the reliability of the electricity grid, especially in certain geographic areas, but coal-fired units also generally emit more air pollution than units burning natural gas or oil.