The U.S. Energy Information Administration just released preliminary data showing that carbon dioxide emissions from energy sources in the United States grew by 1.6 percent in 2007—the single largest year-over-year increase since Bush took office. This one-year increase of 96 million metric tons is like adding 14 million cars to the road. And if we look at the increase in carbon dioxide pollution from energy sources during the entire Bush administration, that sum rises to 230 million metric tons—a nearly 10 percent increase.
The jump this year comes after a small decline last year that was driven by a mild winter and summer in 2006 that enabled Americans to use less energy for heating and cooling. With weather returning to normal last year, higher electricity use is one of the largest drivers of emissions increases in both the commercial and residential sectors.
Overall emissions from the electric power sector increased by 3 percent in 2007. Coal-fired electric plants were the number one stationary source of emissions last year, accounting for a 35.3 million metric ton carbon dioxide increase between 2006 and 2007. Some utilities have turned to natural gas to try to reduce their emissions. And the increase in natural gas emissions in 2007 slightly exceeded coal—a 35.6 million metric ton increase of carbon dioxide.
Petroleum-related carbon dioxide emissions experienced a tiny decrease in 2007, mostly due to a decrease in emissions from oil-fueled electricity. Nonetheless, petroleum still generates the most emissions of all fossil fuels, surpassing coal in 2007 by 429 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. And emissions from petroleum use have grown the most since Bush took office—4.6 percent since 2001.
The EIA data sends several important signals about national carbon dioxide emissions generated by fossil fuel use. There is a clear need to change our energy usage. Proposals to build dozens of new coal-fired electric plants would exacerbate emissions problems—problems that relying on natural gas aren’t solving. Electricity generation is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions. This makes enacting a strong, effective cap-and-trade bill particularly urgent.
Other fossil fuel emissions are also an important part of the puzzle. While emissions from petroleum experienced a slight decrease last year, oil combustion produced the single highest increase in carbon dioxide emissions since 2001. Total fossil fuel energy emissions from the transportation sector have increased a total of 8.4 percent since Bush took office. Higher fuel economy standards in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will begin to reduce emissions from the transportation sector after their implementation in 2012. But more action is necessary to reduce emissions from this and other fossil fuels.