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One company behind U.S.’s top three biggest greenhouse gas emitters

The Atlanta-based Southern Company owns the top three biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. according to recent data released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Three of Southern’s coal-fired plants—two in Georgia and one in Alabama—account for around 64.74 million metric tons of total greenhouse gas emissions, higher than all of Finland’s carbon emission in 2008.

The EPA’s report listed the top 100 “big emissions sources” in U.S., 96 of which were power plants. The top 20 were largely made up of coal plants. Another company, American Electric Power, also owned three coal-fired plants in the top 20.

For its part, Southern Company told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that their emissions are “indicative” of their power plants “being among the nation’s largest generators of electricity,” adding that, “Southern Company complies with all environmental regulations and supports transparency in emissions reporting. The company is a leader in environmental research, development and implementation.” Southern company serves around 4 million people. In 2014 the corporation is opening a new coal plant in Mississippi that will reportedly capture 60 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions.

According to its records Southern Company spent over $8 million in lobbying the U.S. government last year. A profile of the company on, run by nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, reads “Southern has been one of the biggest proponents for electricity deregulation” and “gives most of its money to Republicans.”

Not only is burning coal one of the most significant inputs of global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, it also has major impacts on human health and on water and land pollution. A recent study found that the hidden environmental and health costs of coal on U.S. society reached $523 billion annually—that’s $1,698 per person in the U.S. every year.

“This is not borne by the coal industry, this is borne by us, in our taxes,” the late Paul Epstein, the study’s lead author who died last year, told Reuters at the time. “The public cost is far greater than the cost of the coal itself. The impacts of this industry go way beyond just lighting our lights.”

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