Deserted houses are seen near the coal-fired power station, owned by American Electric Power Company, in Cheshire, Ohio.David Howells/Corbis
The University of Massachusetts – Amherst compiled a list of the top 100 air polluters in America, the top 10 of which are shown here. Some of the top 10 polluters have, not surprisingly, very dirty skeletons in their closets. But others on this list are working to clean up their acts.
Although fossil fuel energy companies dominated the list, Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway and the federal government were in the top 5.
The list ranked polluters by converting the amount of greenhouse gases they produced into the "equivalent metric tons of carbon dioxide," a measurement that equates the heat-trapping ability of a gas to that of carbon dioxide.
#1 American Electric Power
America’s top polluter, American Electric Power, accounted for nearly 2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States -- pumping out the equivalent of 130,409,118 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Emissions data came from 2011, the most recent year available.
The biggest dirty skeleton in American Electric Power's closet is the little town of Cheshire, Ohio (shown above). The company inundated the town with toxic sulfurous gas clouds and acid rain after botching pollution-control technology they had implemented at the Gavin power plant.
In 2002, the American Electric Power Company reached a settlement with most of the residents, to essentially buy them out for $20 million dollars. Many of the 221 residents agreed to leave the town and absolve the company from future property or health claims. Yet, some residents are refusing to leave, and are staying in their properties as the town is destroyed around them. As of the 2010 census, 132 people claimed residency in Cheshire.
Maurice Cato, an Appellation Cherokee from West Virginia, stands after praying to Mother Earth and Grandfather Sky in front of the U.S. Capitol Building.BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images
America’s number two air polluter, Duke Energy Corporation, released 1.89 percent of the nation’s pollution.
Duke Energy battled the Cherokee tribe in the courtroom over the company’s attempt to build an electrical substation near the sacred Kituwah ceremonial mound. In 2010, North Carolina Utilities Commission ordered Duke to halt their plans until the Cherokee’s complaint was settled in court.
The Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, also known as Plant Vogtle, is a 2-unit nuclear power plant located in Burke County, near Waynesboro, Georgia.Nuclear Regulatory Comission, Wikimedia Commons
Southern pumps out 1.76 percent of the nations total greenhouse gases. Although heavily invested in nuclear and fossil fuels, Southern Company also built one of the largest biomass plants in the nation. The biomass plant, located in Texas, came online in July of 2012.
In Georgia, Southern Co. and its partners intend to build two new nuclear units at the Plant Vogtle location (shown above) by 2016-2017.
An Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 465th Air Refueling Squadron refuels a Marine Corps F-18 Hornet over Hawaii during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2012 exercise. U.S. Navy, Wikimedia Commons
Running the wealthiest country and largest military in the world takes tremendous amounts of energy. Power plants, military operations (like the mid-air refueling shown here) and other facilities run by the federal government account for 1.16 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. However, many military bases have installed renewable energy sources to help reduce their carbon emissions.
President Barack Obama meets with Warren Buffet in the Oval Office, July 14, 2010. Pete Souza/White House/Corbis
Even Warren Buffet, the “wizard of Omaha,” can’t make greenhouse gases disappear. The investment group he runs, Berkshire Hathaway, owns interest in power plants, chemical factories, mining operations and other industries that released more than 70 million equivalent metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2011.
Ameren Corporation's Taum Sauk hydroelectric plant under construction in the St. Francois mountain region of the Missouri Ozarks, approximately 90 miles (140 km) south of St. Louis.KTrimble, Wikimedia Commons
Ameren's 67,800,250 equivalent metric tons of carbon dioxide were emitted mainly by their fossil fuel power plants, but even their hydroelectric plants have a destructive past.
The failure of the Taum Sauk hydroelectric plant flooded a huge area of the Black River and Johnson Shut-ins Park in Missouri 90 miles (140 km) south of St. Louis in 2005. In this photo, the empty reservoir of the plant is under repairs. Part of the damage from the flood can be seen in the upper left.
Kosse Strip is an active mine located in Dallas, Texas. This mine is operated by Luminant Mining Company LLC and primarily produces coal (lignite).Roy Luck, Wikimedia Commons
Besides burning coal, Luminant also owns and operates three of the five largest coal mines in Texas: the Beckville Strip, the Three Oaks Mine, and the Oak Hill Strip. In this photo, machinery prepared to move lignite coal at the Kosse strip in Dallas.
FirstEnergy's Little Blue Run reservoir near the Ohio River in Pennsylvania. Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center
In 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection decreed that FirstEnergy had to close a 1,700-acre coal plant residue collection lagoon, the Little Blue Run reservoir, reported the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. The coal waste may have contaminated the local ground water with sulfates, chlorides, and arsenic. The chemicals suspended in the lake give it a brilliant turquoise color when seen from space.
A boy plays with his kite in front of an electric tower in Caracas on Feb. 9, 2007. Venezuela at the time agreed to purchase 82-percent stake held by U.S.-based AES Corp.Francesco Spotorno/Corbis
In 2007, America’s number 9 top polluter sold its stake in Venezuela's largest private electrical company to the government of the late Hugo Chavez, reported the Washington Post. The power lines in Caracas (shown here) were part of that sale.
Wind turbines in southern Colorado.Matt Lemmon, Wikimedia Commons
Approximately half of Xcel’s energy production comes from coal, but they also hold the world record in electricity production from a wind farm. On October 6, 2011, Xcel provided their customers in Colorado with a world record 55.6 percent of their electricity from wind, reported the Denver Post.