November 29, 2007
|US Carbon Emissions Down In 2006; Bush Takes The Credit||Energy Environment Politics|
In a White House press release issued yesterday, President Bush declared:
I was pleased to receive the Energy Information Administration's final report today, which includes U.S. greenhouse gas emissions for 2006. The final report shows that emissions declined 1.5 percent from the 2005 level, while our economy grew 2.9 percent. That means greenhouse gas intensity - how much we emit per unit of economic activity - decreased by 4.2 percent, the largest annual improvement since 1985. This puts us well ahead of the goal I set in 2002 to reduce greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent by 2012.
My Administration's climate change policy is science-based, encourages research breakthroughs that lead to technology development, encourages global participation, and pursues actions that will help ensure continued economic growth and prosperity for our citizens and for people throughout the world. [...]
Energy security and climate change are two of the important challenges of our time. The United States takes these challenges seriously, and we are effectively confronting climate change through regulations, public-private partnerships, incentives, and strong investment in new technologies. Our guiding principle is clear: we must lead the world to produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and we must do it in a way that does not undermine economic growth or prevent nations from delivering greater prosperity for their people.
Breathtaking in its cynicism.
Decide for yourself if you're willing to take the government's figures at face value. But let's suppose we do. As Andrew Leonard points out, here's what the EIA report actually says about causes of the drop:
U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2006 were 110.6 million metric tons (MMT) below their 2005 level of 6,045.0 MMT, due to favorable weather conditions; higher energy prices; a decline in the carbon intensity of electric power generation that resulted from increased use of natural gas, the least carbon intensive fossil fuel; and greater reliance on non fossil energy sources.
Call me partisan, but I'm finding it difficult to credit the Bush administration with responsibility for a year that featured both a mild winter and a cool summer. And while one can put some blame on the White House for high energy prices, the administration has actually fought tooth-and-nail against any kind of carbon tax or cap-and-trade system that would ensure stiff energy costs for greenhouse gas generating fossil fuel consumption. I'm also skeptical of the notion that "greater reliance on non fossil energy sources" has yet made any significant impact on emissions. Indeed, the EIA's own data have carbon dioxide emissions attributable to "renewable fuels" rising from 11.6 MMT to 11.9 MMT.
Which leaves us with the switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation. I don't know the whole story of how that transition is playing out, but one major incentive has been the New Source Review requirement of the Clean Air Act, which was designed to encourage the phasing out of older, high-polluting energy-generating technologies.
Of course, the Bush administration attempted (and failed) to gut New Source Review.
And to that we can add this: natural gas is, in terms of its usefulness, the most valuable fuel we have. Think of a gas stove. Instant on, instant off, no fumes, no smoke, no soot. There is no substitute. Moreover, natural gas can't easily be shipped across oceans. When you use up what's on your own continent, you're pretty much done. Here in North America, natural gas production may already have peaked. So, if we're using more natural gas for electricity generation and building lots of new natural gas-powered generation plants, that's hardly cause for celebration.