The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported on Feb. 4 that total releases of toxic chemicals decreased 12%, while toxic air releases were down 8% in its annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) report.

The data—from 2012—was compiled from 21,024 facilities that are required to report to TRI. Of that total, only 582 of the facilities fall into the Electric Utility industry sector. Although the sector is relatively small in numbers, it accounts for over 25% of all air releases documented in the 45-page report.

The fact that toxic air releases were down 8% shouldn’t come as a surprise. Electric generation produced by coal-fired power plants was down 12.7% in 2012, and that change alone accounts for a large reduction in toxic air releases. Another factor is the widespread installation of emissions control technologies—treated production-related waste is now over twice what it was in 2003.

The trend coincides with the industry’s transition to natural gas. Only plants that combust coal or oil to generate power for distribution in commerce must report to TRI, while natural gas facilities are exempt.

Only 4% of Electric Utility sector facilities reported initiating source reduction activities in 2012. Of those that did, the most common step was improving operating practices or modifying processes. Those activities were also the most common source reduction actions taken by TRI reporting facilities as a whole.

—Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)