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May 10, 2016

Energy-Related Carbon Emissions Are Declining--Yet Again


For those who think fossil fuels hurt the environment, there is good news—though we suspect few of them will feel any relief.  

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has just reported that energy-related carbon emissions are down once again. As the accompanying graph shows, after slight increases in CO2 emissions in 2013 and 2014, there was a decline in 2015—to 12 percent below 2005 levels. 


Energy-related carbon emissions—the result of electricity-generating power plants—peaked in 2007 and have been on a gradual, though erratic, decline ever since.  

The primary reason for the decline is power generators shifting from coal to natural gas, which produces about half of the carbon emissions as coal.  

While coal was once king of electricity generation, today natural gas and coal are both responsible for 33 percent, according to the EIA

One impetus behind the transition from coal to natural gas was Environmental Protection Agency demands. But the more important reason was that innovative drilling techniques led to increasing natural gas supplies and therefore falling prices, making natural gas a more attractive power source.  

Of course, there is also a shift to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, but renewable sources—excluding hydro and nuclear power—only account for about 7 percent of energy generation, according to the EIA, so their influence on the decline is likely small. 

As coal-dependant West Virginia goes to the polls, the survival of the coal industry is a leading theme in the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton boasted that she wants to kill the coal industry and put those workers in the unemployment line—though she walked back that claim later. Donald Trump says he will bring those coal jobs back

For IPI’s part, we don’t think the government should be in the business of killing an industry or keeping it on life support. Natural gas is ascendant because it is cheaper and cleaner than coal. That’s the market working to help consumers and the environment.


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