Chicago’s Largest Sources of Greenhouse Gases Are Its Coal-Fired Power Plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new database allows the public to compare major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.  Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Hawthorne recently used it to conclude that the Chicago area’s largest sources are its coal-fired power plants.

Fed by a steady stream of coal barges, the aging power plants that loom over Chicago’s Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods are by far the city’s largest industrial sources of climate change pollution.

No other polluter comes close to the 4.2 million metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide churned into the atmosphere by the two coal plants in 2010, according to a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency database that for the first time allows people to compare major industrial sources of greenhouse gases.

The city’s next biggest source, a heating plant at the University of Illinois at Chicago, trailed far behind. It emitted 132,000 metric tons.

About 6,700 power plants, refineries, steel mills and other major polluters are required under a 2008 federal law to provide detailed annual reports on their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases that contribute to climate change. The first results highlight the nation’s reliance on coal as an energy source and show why fossil fuel interests are lobbying fiercely to block federal and state efforts to limit the pollution.

Though burning oil and natural gas also releases greenhouse gases, coal plants account for all but four of the top 100 emitters nationwide and more than 70 percent of emissions from big industrial sources, according to a Tribune analysis of the EPA data.

The consequences of our energy production and consumption are examined in several Roosevelt courses, including SUST 210 The Sustainable Future (offered at Roosevelt’s downtown campus and online in Spring 2012), SUST 310 Energy and Climate Change (offered online this semester), and SUST 320 Sprawl, Transportation, and Planning (offered online this semester). For more information on these or any other of our courses, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email

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