EPA data pinpoint largest greenhouse gas emitters in region

  • Central Heating Plant at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The central heating plant at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, shown Thursday, is one of the biggest single emitters of greenhouse gases in Hampshire County. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Central Heating Plant at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Central Heating Plant at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The West Springfield Generating Station, right, is located across the Connecticut River from downtown Springfield. Photographed on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The West Springfield Generating Station is located near the Memorial Avenue interchange with Riverdale Street (U.S. Rt. 5). Photographed on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The West Springfield Generating Station is located on the west bank of the Connecticut River just south of the Hampden County Memorial Bridge. Photographed on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The West Springfield Generating Station is located at 15 Agawam Avenue. Photographed on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The West Springfield Generating Station, right, is located across the Connecticut River from downtown Springfield. Photographed on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The West Springfield Generating Station is located on the west bank of the Connecticut River just south of the Hampden County Memorial Bridge. Photographed on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The West Springfield Generating Station is located at 15 Agawam Avenue. Photographed on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The West Springfield Generating Station is a major regional emitter of greenhouse gases. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2019 9:16:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Climate change is a collective problem, as evidenced by the many everyday activities that emit greenhouse gases in some way: driving a car, turning on the lights, cooking dinner and throwing food in the trash, to name some.

But there are companies and facilities in particular that account for the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions. And, thanks to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is possible to know what facilities in any given area have the largest greenhouse-gas footprint.

The Gazette reviewed the most recent data from the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, which track greenhouse gas emissions from large emitting facilities, suppliers of fossil fuels and other industrial gases, and facilities that inject carbon dioxide underground.

According to the data, most recently compiled in 2017, Hampshire County’s biggest polluters are the University of Massachusetts Physical Plant building, and closed landfills in Northampton, Granby and South Hadley. In total, those facilities emitted 155,799 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.

The data also highlight the extent to which the largest polluters in western Massachusetts are concentrated in Hampden County, which has the second-highest poverty rate of any county in the state. Hampden County also has the highest percentage of Latino or Hispanic residents of the state’s 14 counties, and third-largest percentage of African-American or black residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Of the 20 facilities identified in western Massachusetts, 11 are in Hampden County. And most of those facilities — like power plants and landfills — benefit residents beyond the borders of Hampden County. In total, those 11 facilities put 711,355 of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere, the vast majority of which came from power plants.

Not included in the data, however, are the cumulative emissions that result in large sources of greenhouse gas — transportation infrastructure and heating in residential homes, for example.

UMass Physical Plant

The UMass Physical Plant is the facility that emitted the most greenhouse gas in Hampshire County in 2017. The Physical Plant is responsible for all of the custodial, grounds, utility and building maintenance on campus. That includes providing electricity, heating and air conditioning.

“Although we are doing many things to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, it makes sense that we are a large energy user relative to smaller entities in Hampshire County,” Shane Conklin, the associate vice chancellor of facilities and campus services at UMass Amherst, said in a statement. “We have more than 13 million gross square feet of space including laboratories, dining commons, residential facilities for more than 13,000 students, etc.”

Conklin said UMass has managed to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by 27 percent since 2004, while increasing square footage by 32 percent over that same time period. Central heating plant changes in 2008 allowed the university to switch from using coal as a fuel to using sulfur distillate oil and natural gas, he said.

“In 2008, UMass Amherst built the EPA Energy STAR award-winning Combined Heat and Power Plant,” Conklin said. “This state-of-the-art facility is extremely efficient and has the latest advanced technology pollution controls.”

Conklin added that UMass Amherst is responsible for 16 megawatts worth of solar installations across the state over the past five years — six megawatts on campus, such as parking canopy and rooftop solar panels, as well as 10 megawatts located off-site. And that work is growing, with an additional 3 megawatts of solar parking canopies planned, he added.

Conklin also cited other campus initiatives: the development of battery storage systems that reduce greenhouse gas emissions for ISO-New England, the electric market operator for New England; a program that takes savings and credits from energy efficiency projects and reinvests them in future sustainability projects; strategic planning to reduce campus energy use; strict new green construction standards; and continuing work to make buildings and operations on campus more energy-efficient through retrofitting and other methods.

But the fact that the EPA’s data include the university, which Conklin said generates about 72 percent of its own electricity, points to the kind of facilities that generate the most significant greenhouse gases.

“The big electrical generators are on such an enormously different scale,” said Michael Ash, a UMass professor of economics and public policy who has worked with the EPA’s data to compile lists of the country’s worst air, water and greenhouse gas polluters.

Fossil fuels

In Hampden County, many facilities that use fossil fuels to generate power for the region appear in the EPA data, including: the Masspower cogeneration facility; Berkshire Power Co.’s 229-megawatt natural gas generator in Agawam; the Stony Brook power plant in Ludlow; the West Springfield Generating Station, which supplies electricity during times of peak demand; and Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s natural gas pipeline compressor station in Agawam.

Other Hampden County facilities on the list also have regional significance. For example, Covanta Springfield, also known as the Pioneer Valley Resource Recovery Facility, combusts solid waste generated throughout western Massachusetts. Other such facilities on the list include the Bondi’s Island landfill in Chicopee and the Chicopee Sanitary Landfill, which closed earlier this year.

Another Hampden County facility generating significant greenhouse gases in 2017 was the Solutia Inc. chemical plant in Springfield, which the EPA also named as the state’s top source for toxic waste in 2011 and 2012.

Environmental activists frequently point to the location of polluting facilities — fossil fuel infrastructure, chemical plants and trash incinerators, for example — as examples of environmental racism and classism.

“More often than not they’re in the low-income communities, communities of color,” said Andrea Nyamekye, the campaign and policy director for the organization Neighbor to Neighbor. Nyamekye said the same is true not only in western Massachusetts but across the state.

Pollution can have a serious impact on the health of residents.

When it comes to the number of days with high levels of ozone pollution — caused by pollution from cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries and chemical plants, according to the EPA — the American Lung Association gave Hampshire and Hampden counties an F grade. And the Asthma and Allergy Foundation this year named Springfield the most challenging city in which to live for those with asthma.

Landfill gas

Landfills are also a significant contributor to climate change, as the EPA’s data show. So-called “landfill gas” consists not only of carbon dioxide, but also methane, which is 28 to 36 times more effective than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere.

That gas is a product of organic material like food that, when dumped into landfills, begins to decompose. In less than a year, conditions in the landfill become anaerobic, which means they lack oxygen. And anaerobic decomposition produces methane.

Municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the country, according to the EPA.

There are ways for that methane to be captured and used to produce energy. Organic waste also can be composted and so be diverted from landfills in the first place.

For any of these problems to resolved, experts say that piecemeal change is simply not enough.

“I would want to underline the need for systemic policy approaches,” said Ash, the UMass economist.

Individuals buying electric cars or turning the lights off behind them isn’t enough, Ash said. Instead, he said, big changes are needed — massive, long-term commitments to renewable energy and tax breaks to buy electric cars, for example.

“It’s very difficult for individuals of goodwill to make a dent by choosing to have a smaller carbon footprint,” he said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.




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