News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

U.S. Carbon Emissions Are Rising Again

Carbon emissions from U.S. coal plants rose in 2013 | Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr/Creative Commons License

In the run-up to the anticipated announcement next week of new, strict federal greenhouse gas emissions limits for power plants, a federal agency has announced that the nation's carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use have started rising again after a five-year decline.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA), a semi-independent wing of the U.S. Department of Energy, announced Wednesday that the United States' energy-related carbon emissions in 2013 were up by around 2.4 percent over 2012, and that the first two months of 2014 saw emissions around 7.45 percent higher than for the same period in 2013.

The rise marks the end of a five-year period from January 2008 through December 2012 in which the nation's greenhouse gas emissions fell, and it looks as though a rise in emissions from coal and natural gas are to blame.

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Coal-fired power plants, which generate just under 32 percent of American carbon emissions, saw their 2013 contribution to the global oversupply of greenhouse gases rise by just over 4 percent over 2012, and the industry's emissions in January and February 2014 were almost 12 percent higher than in the first two months of 2013.

Natural gas emissions were a little over two percent higher in 2013 than in 2012, and a hair under ten percent higher in January and February 2014 than in those months in 2013.

The nation's carbon emissions reached a record high in 2007, but mostly declined over the next five years. By 2012, those emissions had dropped by around 12 percent from their 2007 peak. The rise since 2012 hasn't brought the nation close to that peak, but any increase does damage to the climate.

This coming Monday, according to the White House, President Obama will release new Environmental Protection Agency rules that will cap the amount of greenhouse gases power plants are allowed to dump into the atmosphere. The rules are expected to be unpopular within the fossil fuel industry. But according to the environmental group that noticed Wednesday's new EIA figures, the increase in carbon emissions proves the time is right to start regulating greenhouse gas pollution from power plants.

"Clearly, the anticipated release of the EPA's first-ever proposed rule limiting carbon dioxide pollution from existing power plants is not happening a minute too soon," said Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "And much more needs to follow."

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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