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Greenhouse gas emissions on the rise in some Crossroads plants

By Sara Sneath
Dec. 21, 2013 at 6:21 a.m.
Updated Dec. 22, 2013 at 6:22 a.m.


WHAT ARE GREENHOUSE GASES?

Greenhouse gases do not have direct negative affects on people's health but contribute to global warming, which can in turn have adverse affects on human health and welfare, according the the EPA. Greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide makes up about 84 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. Carbon dioxide is emitted through burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil), solid waste and wood products. It's also emitted through certain chemical reactions like making cement.

The Environmental Protection Agency's third year of greenhouse gas data indicates a 4.5 percent decrease in reported U.S. emissions from reporting year 2011 to 2012.

However, Texas remains the nation's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, and some plants in the Crossroads have increased their carbon pollution emissions.

Among 463 reporting chemical plants in the country, Formosa Plastics Corp.'s Point Comfort plant is the fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter. In reporting year 2012, it emitted 3.6 million metric tons, the equivalent of 180,735 homes' energy use for one year, according to EPA data.

But Formosa Plastics Corp. has reduced its carbon footprint by about 30 percent, despite increased production, said Bill Harvey, Formosa communications manager.

Harvey said most of that decrease has been at the Point Comfort plant. The power/steam unit is in the process of converting its two power trains to natural gas instead of petroleum coke as a combustion fuel source, he said.

"Natural gas is the cleanest of all fossil fuels," Harvey said.

But some local plants' emissions appear to be on the rise.

Coleto Creek's emissions jumped from less than 4 million metric tons to 5 million metric tons between reporting year 2011 to 2012, according to EPA data. The plant was not in production for more than three months in 2011 to perform various maintenance jobs, said Danni Sabota, communications manager for GDF SUEZ Energy North America. In 2012, the plant was not in production for only three days, she said.

Because of this discrepancy, emission figures from 2011 and 2012 don't reflect average consecutive-year comparisons, Sabota said.

She said the plant uses low-sulfur coal as a fuel source to control emissions. "Over the last seven years, we have invested more than $45 million to further reduce emissions," Sabota said.

From reporting year 2011 to 2012, Invista's emissions jumped from 1.5 million metric tons to 1.7 million metric tons, according to the EPA report. Invista pledges to reduce its global energy intensity 20 percent by 2020, which will result in a reduction of energy used and greenhouse gases emitted per ton of product, said Amy Hodges, Invista public affairs manager.

She said Invista has upgraded and continues to upgrade and/or retire older boilers resulting in a cleaner and more energy efficient manufacturing process.

Understanding the issue

Industry makes up about 20 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the country, transportation about 28 percent, electricity and power generation about 38 percent and agriculture about 8 percent, said Jim Yarbrough, EPA climate change adviser in the multimedia division for this region.

Yarbrough said the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program includes electricity generation and industry.

"We are covering the majority of emissions by this counting," he said.

The reason for the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program is to collect emissions data that would otherwise be difficult to estimate, Yarbrough said.

"In terms of being able to quantify emissions, we can model emissions from vehicles easier than we can from complicated industries," he said. "You can put a car in a lab and measure what is coming out of the tailpipe. It's a lot harder to do that with complicated industrial processes."

Bigger in Texas

For reporting year 2012, Texas plants emitted more than 450 million metric tons - more than three times that of any other state, according to the EPA emissions data. That number is a reflection of what Texas produces, not how it produces, said Cyril Durrenberger, a research scientist at the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources at The University of Texas at Austin.

"We produce a large percentage of the plastics and gasoline that's made in the country," Durrenberger said. "If they want these things, then that is what you have to deal with."

But Durrenberger adds that plants can benefit financially by lowering emissions and using fuel sources more efficiently.

New standards proposed

In September, the EPA proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants, and it is beginning the process of establishing carbon pollution standards for existing power plants. Yarbrough said the EPA does not have carbon standard regulations for existing manufacturing plants at this point. But the emissions data, which is available online, still serves the public.

"If a person is concerned that climate change is a problem, then he or she can certainly use this database to keep tabs on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions industries in their area emit and if they are working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions going forward," Yarbrough said.

Who's to judge?

Without governmental regulation, residents are unlikely to force change at the places they work.

Crossroad residents say environmental well-being is not the only concern to consider.

"Chemical plants in the region employ a lot of people," said Jennifer Jamison, of Victoria. "They pay taxes and make large donations to the community."

Ron Holman, a former resident of Point Comfort, said pollution in Point Comfort is not noticeable compared to cities such as Dallas and Houston.

"I respect the subject. I was in the environmental business for 20 years, dealing with the EPA monitoring air quality in power and industrial plants around the world," he said. "You have to understand - doing what I have done and seeing the places I have been - there (are) more dangers in other plant accidents than with any possible pollutants these two plants emit on a normal yearly basis without a serious accident."

Holman said the plants have ultimately had a positive effect on the residents there.

"You're asking people in Point Comfort to make comments about plants 90 percent of them work at," he said. "Point Comfort was built by Alcoa and would not exist if not for the plants."

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