January 8, 2019 / 8:13 PM / 11 days ago

U.S. carbon emissions spike in 2018 on industry, fuel demand

WASHINGTON, Jan 8 (Reuters) - U.S. emissions of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide spiked last year, after falling for the previous three, as cold weather spurred heating natural gas demand and as the economy pushed planes and trucks to guzzle fuel, an estimate released on Tuesday said.

The Rhodium Group, an independent research group, said the emissions rose 3.4 percent in 2018, the highest jump since 2010 when the economy bounced back from the Great Recession.

The spike occurred even though 2018 saw a record amount of shutdowns of power plants fired by coal, the fuel richest in carbon output when burned.

Natural gas, which emits about half of the carbon of coal, replaced most of the lost coal generation, but also served the vast majority of load growth for electricity last year, the report said.

The Trump administration, which has announced its intent to leave the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, is relaxing Obama-era rules on emissions from power plants and vehicles as it seeks to boost production of oil, gas and coal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not respond to questions about the report, saying it would only answer queries related to the partial federal government shutdown or about environmental emergencies.

Trump administration officials have said that emissions can waiver from year to year depending on the economy, but that the country can both cut emissions and enjoy a strong economy at the same time.

An environmentalist said the Trump administration needs to speed up the transition from natural gas to renewables such as wind and solar power and energy storage.

“Coal’s sharp-dressed cousin is continuing us on a path to irreparable and costly climate damage,” said Greg Cunningham, who works on clean energy and climate at the Conservation Law Foundation. “It is imperative that we shift our clean energy transition into high gear and accelerate our clean car standards to reverse this trend.”

The American Petroleum Institute, the top lobbying organization for the U.S. oil and gas industry, says it does not take a position on forming a carbon tax, which some environmentalists, politicians in both parties, and petroleum companies say would harness the power of capitalism to reduce emissions. The API backs voluntary efforts to reduce emissions.

Mike Sommers, the head of API, told reporters in a conference call that the United States can boost oil and gas and cut emissions at the same time.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner Editing by Susan Thomas

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