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King Kong vs. Godzilla: Does Big Oil Get a Pass Because Big Coal is Bigger?

David Doniger

Posted January 15, 2012

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When EPA released the first comprehensive “right-to-know” data on America’s biggest carbon polluters last week, there was a curious reaction from the one of the biggest industries involved.

As expected, the 2010 data show that coal-burning power plants are the biggest sources of the carbon pollution that endangers our health and drives extreme weather.  The nation’s oil refineries follow in second place. 

Nationwide, 1,555 power plants reported more than 2.3 billion tons of carbon pollution, about 72 percent of the total reported.  In second place were the nation’s 145 oil refineries, emitting 183 million tons of CO2 and other heat-trapping gases.

The giant power companies, Southern and American Electric Power, shrugged off the news.  It’s just “indicative of those being among the nation’s largest generators of electricity,” a Southern spokesman told Bloomberg’s Businessweek.  “The biggest greenhouse gas emitters are those that have produced the most electricity,” said American Electric Power’s spokesman. 

The giant oil companies had a different reaction.  Said the American Petroleum Institute’s Howard Feldman, “Why are you picking on us, when we are like the peewee league here?”

Oh.  When a 40-foot-tall King Kong is stomping on your city, does he get a pass because Godzilla is 400 feet tall?

KKv Godz.PNG

                                                                    Images from Wikimedia Commons

And besides, oil refineries are mighty big polluters that go toe to toe with power plants.  Consider, for example, the Exxon refinery in Baytown, TX, with 10.7 million tons of carbon pollution.  Here are the top ten refineries:



Tons CO2-equivalent


Baytown, TX



Baton Rouge, LA



Christiansted, VI


Texas City

Texas City, TX


Citgo Petroleum

Sulphur, LA



Deer Park, TX



Carson, CA



Beaumont, TX



Norco, LA



Garyville, LA


In fact, there are 59 refineries in 59 specific communities reporting more than 1,000,000 tons of annual carbon emissions.  Go to EPA’s database and look ‘em up.

Peewees?  Or King Kongs?  Ask the people in those communities.

They are counting on EPA to do its job under the Clean Air Act to set standards that require America’s biggest polluters – power plants, oil refineries, and more – to curb their dangerous carbon pollution. 

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