Downtown Boise seen from the Boise Depot on May 5, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Mountain Sun)
As Idaho grows, so do its emissions.
At Idaho facilities tracked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, average annual emissions grew 14% from the period 2014-2017 to 2018-2021.
Some of Idaho’s biggest industries are also its top emitters. Power companies like Idaho Power and Tyr Energy, with their natural gas power plants, had some of the highest-emitting facilities in the state. But Idaho’s potato processing plants, owned by Simplot, Basic American Foods and Lamb Weston, also emitted some of the highest levels of greenhouse gasses in the state, along with Amalgamated Sugar Company, which owns three sugar beet processing plants.
Reducing greenhouse gasses is seen as necessary in the fight against human-caused climate change. The U.S. EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting program tracks emissions coming from fuel consumed to operate a facility, as well as from the industrial process, but doesn’t track emissions from farms or livestock operations.
Idaho has no statutory mandate to reduce emissions, unlike some of its neighbors in the West. In Washington, the state Legislature passed an act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels 45% by 2030, 70% by 2040, and 95% by 2050. Oregon has said it will get to 75% below 1990 levels by 2050.
If Idaho were to decide to lower its greenhouse gas emissions, it’s unclear where it would set its benchmarks, as the state has little available data on emissions. Idaho hasn’t conducted a comprehensive study of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions since July 2010, almost 13 years ago.
That leaves the work to reduce emissions mostly in the hands of the private sector. Some have set ambitious goals — like Idaho Power’s goal of providing 100% clean energy by 2045 — while others have not. The Idaho Capital Sun reached out to all of the companies noted below. If no comment is included, the company did not respond by our deadline.
The power companies mentioned below reflect only the energy Idaho produced in-state — which only accounts for 28% of the total energy that it consumed. The state relies heavily on imported energy, of which petroleum accounts for about a third of the state’s end-use energy consumption.
Using predictions from 2010, Idaho was expected to produce around 42 million metric tons by 2021 — meaning that these top 10 companies contributed 4.5 million metric tons, or over 10% of the total use. Agriculture was expected to account for around a quarter of those emissions, but the EPA does not measure emissions from that sector.
Here are the top 10 greenhouse gas polluters in Idaho:
1.) The Idaho Power Company
The Idaho Power Company in 2021 produced 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide across its three natural gas plants within the state of Idaho, all of which have opened since 2001 — Evander Andrews Power Complex in Mountain Home, the Langley Gulch Power Plant in Payette County, and the Bennett Mountain Power Project in Elmore County.
In 2019, the company set a goal for 100% clean energy by 2045. Idaho Power reported that between 2020 and 2021, it had decreased carbon emissions across all energy sources by 13%, when measured in pounds per megawatt-hour.
But over the last four years, between 2018 and 2021, the company’s three instate natural gas power plants have emitted on average 30% more greenhouse gasses than they did between 2013 and 2017. Natural gas makes up 15.5% of Idaho Power’s energy sources (hydropower from the Snake River makes up nearly the largest share of its energy mix, nearly one third).
Current planning anticipates an exit from natural gas plants by 2034, although that date could still change. The company has said it will exit its coal-powered interests, all of which are located out of state, by the end of 2028.
“Right now, natural gas — which produces half the emissions that coal does — still plays a key role in serving our growing population,” said Sven Berg, an Idaho Power spokesman. “Over the past decade, decreases in our coal emissions have more than offset increases in natural gas emissions, leading to an overall emissions reduction.”
He said that the company recently upgraded two of its natural gas plants and plans to upgrade the third this year to increase efficiencies, generating more electricity while using the same amount of fuel.
2.) The Amalgamated Sugar Co.
In 2021, the Amalgamated Sugar Co.’s three sugar beet processing facilities emitted 947,272 metric tons of greenhouse gasses, with its Nampa facility posting the most emissions. Two of its factories — those in Paul and Nampa — run on natural gas. A third, in Twin Falls, runs on coal.
In 2011 the company reached an agreement with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to install equipment that would burn coal more cleanly at its Nampa plant, and it did make improvements a few years later. The companies’ average annual emissions between 2018 and 2021 were 4% lower than between 2014 and 2017.
3.) Tyr Energy
Another natural gas power plant, the Rathdrum Power Plant, emitted 696,296 tons of CO2 in 2021. Average CO2 emissions increased 28% from the period 2014-2017 to 2018-2021.
This natural gas power plant was built in 2001 and is owned by a subsidiary of Tyr Energy, which is part of the Japan-based Itochu Corp.
4.) Bayer U.S. Holding LP
The German chemical company Bayer owns a phosphate mining and processing facility in Soda Springs. Phosphate is a main ingredient in Bayer’s Roundup herbicide.
Bayer’s facility emitted 478,490 metric tons of greenhouse gasses in 2021, although for the last four years the average amount of gasses emitted has gone down 7% compared to the previous four years.
Bayer has committed to reducing its emissions by 42% by the end of 2029, compared to its 2019 baseline, said Mike Veile, optimization and energy lead for Bayer’s Soda Springs site, in a statement to the Capital Sun. In Soda Springs specifically, the company is working to power all electricity by renewable sources, becoming CO2 neutral by 2030.
5.) Clearwater Paper Corp.
Clearwater’s large wood pulp mill in Lewiston polluted 306,326 metric tons of CO2. Average emissions from 2018 to 2021 were 314,180.5, an increase of 12% from their average between 2014 and 2017.
Most of the emissions produced comes from their stationary combustion, which in 2021 comprised about two-thirds of the total CO2 emitted. Another 30% comes from the pulp and paper manufacturing process.
In 2022, Clearwater set a goal of reducing direct greenhouse gas emissions from their mill and indirect GHG emissions from the purchase of electricity by 30%, and reducing emissions along its supply chain by 25% by 2030, according to spokeswoman Shannon Myers. She noted that the company self-generates 55% of its energy needs from renewable sources and the remaining 45% from purchased energy.
6.) TC Pipelines LP
TC Pipelines LP own three Idaho compressor stations (Eastport Compressor Station, Athol CS#5, and Sandpoint CS#4) related to its Gas Transmission Northwest Pipeline, which delivers natural gas from Western Canada across the Pacific Northwest, connecting with a pipeline going into California.
TC Pipelines is owned by TC Energy, headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, which is also behind the canceled Keystone XL pipeline project
7.) J.R. Simplot Co.
Across its potato processing plant in Caldwell, plus its Don Plant in Pocatello that produces phosphate fertilizers and animal feed phosphates, the Simplot Company produced 177,639 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The Don Plant produces phosphate fertilizers and feed phosphates, sourced from the Smoky Canyon open-pit mine in Caribou National Forest.
Simplot also has a 50% stake in the CS Beef Packers facility in Kuna, which produced 26,659 tons of emissions in 2021.
8.) Basic American, Inc.
Basic American Inc., headquartered in Walnut Creek, California, makes hashbrown products for brands like Idaho Spuds and Hungry Jack.
At its three natural-gas powered dehydration facilities in Idaho — in Shelley, Rexburg and Blackfoot — the company produced a total of 146,835 tons of emissions in 2021.
During a recent expansion of the Rexburg facility, the company installed a low-emission burner there, wrote Jennifer Anderson, vice president and general counsel at Basic American Foods. The company also closed its production facility at Shelley in 2022, thus decreasing its company emission footprint.
9.) Itafos Conda Holdings
Itafos operates a phosphorus mine and fertilizer manufacturing facility in Caribou County, near Soda Springs, which in 2021 produced 130,237 metric tons of greenhouse gasses. Its average annual emissions from 2018 to 2021 were 123,033, an increase of 13% from the four years prior.
10.) Lamb Weston
Between its American Falls and Twin Falls potato processing plants, Lamb Weston produced 125,684 metric tons of CO2 in 2021. Average annual emissions grew by 10% from 2014-2017 to 2018-2021.
That increase coincides with Lamb Weston’s $415 million expansion to its American Falls plant in 2021, which was meant to give the company the capacity to produce more than 350 million pounds of frozen potato products each year.
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