U.S.: Historic Drop In Carbon Dioxide Emissions

The first four months of 2012 saw 'energy-related, CO2 emissions' drop to levels not seen since 1992, according to the EIA. Graphs show an 18% decrease in carbon emissions from coal, with lesser amounts from natural gas and petroleum from a year ago

Plummeting use of coal for power generation as many of the nation's coal power plants either shuttered or were converted to natural gas contributed greatly to the historic drop in the first quarter tabulations by the Energy Information Administration, (EIA) - "the energy department's statistics arm."

"Energy-related carbon emissions fell 8 percent from the same period a year ago to 1.134 billion metric tons (1.25 billion tons), according to the latest monthly energy review by the Energy Information Administration

Emissions from coal use fell sharply by 18 percent to 387 million tonnes in the January-March 2012 period - the lowest-first quarter tally since 1983 and the lowest for any quarter since April-June 1986."

While the other two fossil fuels saw nothing like an 18% decrease, they did, nonetheless, contribute to the 8% total decline.

The EIA news report provides graphs for coal, natural gas (down 2.8%), and petroleum (down 2.7%).

EIA largely attributes the total 8% decrease to three factors:

  • A mild winter that reduced household heating demand and therefore energy use
  • A decline in coal-fired electricity generation, due largely to historically low natural gas prices
  • Reduced gasoline demand

In his July 21 column, "There's Still Hope for the Planet", NYT Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt refers to the drop in carbon emissions resulting from the transition from coal to natural gas as a "success" that illustrates an 'alternative' route to climate stabilization.

"The successes make it possible at least to fathom a transition to clean energy that does not involve putting a price on carbon - either through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program that requires licenses for emissions."

Contributor's note: EIA uses the term, "energy-related carbon dioxide emissions". It does not use the term 'carbon dioxide equivalents that I believe would take into account the methane leakage associated from natural gas production and consumption. I hope to add clarification.

Thanks to California League of Conservation Voters

Full Story: U.S. CO2 emissions fall to lowest first-quarter level in 20 years: EIA



Irvin Dawid's picture

EIA does not include methane leakage in its CO2 evaluations

Methane leakage is considered a serious contributor to global warming.

"EIA now only reports on energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions, which are primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels (for energy). We are not reporting methane emissions. We report on CO2 emissions resulting from combustion of methane, which is not the same thing. Our resources for preparing a total greenhouse emissions estimate report were reduced last year."
EIA Information Center email, August 6.
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

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