US energy-related CO2 emissions dropped in 2012 to their lowest levels since 1994, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Last year’s emissions — at 5.3 billion metric tons of CO2 — represent about a 4 percent decline over 2011’s 5.5 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions. With the exception of 2010, emissions have declined every year since 2007, the EIA says.
The largest drop in emissions in 2012 came from coal, which the EIA says is used almost exclusively for electricity generation. During 2012, particularly in the spring and early summer, low natural gas prices led to competition between natural gas- and coal-fired electric power generators. Lower natural gas prices resulted in reduced levels of coal generation, and increased natural gas generation — a less carbon-intensive fuel for power generation, which shifted power generation from the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel (coal) to the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel (natural gas).
Other factors contributing to the lower emissions include decreased demand for transportation fuels and mild winter temperatures that reduced demand for heating. The warm winter months during 2012, particularly in the first quarter, more than offset a slight increase in cooling-degree days during the summer months.
The EIA recently published preliminary data for January-December 2012 in the March 2013 edition of the Monthly Energy Review, which includes statistics covering all aspects of energy. The administration will publish a full analysis of 2012 energy-related CO2 emissions later this year.
In late March, the EPA finalized pollution limits for new power plants, setting emissions limits for mercury and toxic air pollutants like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide.
A Gallup poll conducted last month found 76 percent of Americans want more domestic energy from solar power, followed by wind (71 percent) and natural gas (65 percent). Only 46 percent of survey respondents want to emphasize the production of oil and 37 percent want more nuclear power, while coal is least popular with 31 percent of Americans wanting to prioritize its production, Energy Manager Today reports.