WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. emissions of the main greenhouse gas from fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas fell a record 7 percent in 2009 due to the recession and more efficient use of fuels, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Carbon dioxide emissions from energy sources, which make up about 80 percent of the country’s output of gases blamed for warming the planet, fell more than 400 million tonnes last year, the EIA said.
“While emissions have declined in three out of the last four years, 2009 was exceptional,” the EIA, the statistics arm of the Energy Department, said in an annual report.
The 2009 decline was the biggest annual drop since the government started keeping energy records more than 60 years ago. From 2000 to 2009 the U.S. annual emissions decline averaged 0.9 percent, the EIA said.
The latest drop may help the United States edge closer to a short-term goal on emissions cutting, but analysts warned emissions could start rising again quickly once the economy bounces.
“Economic recession is not a sound strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” said Michael Levy, a climate analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations.
President Barack Obama has said he wants the country to cut emissions of greenhouse gases to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Scientists say emissions from the United States and other big polluters such as China, India and Europe, would have to be cut by much steeper rates by 2050, however, in order to help prevent the droughts, floods and stronger storms expected from climate change.
Senator John Kerry said on Wednesday he expected the U.S. climate bill to be unveiled soon. The legislation has been delayed for months amid opposition from lawmakers in coal and oil states. Senator Lindsey Graham, the lone Republican who was helping to craft the bill, has dropped out of the effort, leading to further delays.
Last year as the recession hit, U.S. consumption of petroleum-based fuels fell to 13.3 million barrels per day, from 13.7 million bpd a year earlier, the EIA said.
Cheaper natural gas also helped to cut emissions. Power utilities switched some electricity generation from coal to that gas, which releases about half of the carbon dioxide per energy unit. Increased use of wind power also helped as U.S. capacity soared 39 percent last year, according to industry group the American Wind Energy Association.
The average fuel efficiency of U.S. vehicles rose slightly last year to 28.5 miles per gallon, another factor in cutting carbon dioxide output, the EIA said.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Tom Doggett; graphic by Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Walter Bagley and Lisa Shumaker