This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

December 09, 2009

EIA: U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Decreased by 2.2% in 2008

The total U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases dropped to the equivalent of 7,053 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2008, a 2.2% decrease, according to a new report from DOE's Energy Information Administration (EIA). The drop was largely due to a 2.9% decrease in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, which the EIA attributes to record-high oil prices for much of the year, followed by a decline in economic activity. That decline is expected to continue this year, as the EIA's "Short Term Energy Outlook," released on December 8, projects a 6.1% decrease in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, which are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. But a healthier economy tends to bring increases in such emissions, and the EIA projects a 1.5% increase in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2010. Since 1990, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have grown at an average annual rate of 0.7%. See the EIA press release, the greenhouse gas report, and the "Short-Term Energy Outlook."

The EIA reports are timely, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has officially declared that greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of the residents of the United States, which means that they fit within the Clean Air Act's definition of air pollutants and are subject to regulation. The so-called endangerment finding covers six key greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The finding does not in and of itself impose any emissions requirements, but it does allow the EPA to finalize its proposed greenhouse gas standards for light-duty vehicles. Although it opens the six greenhouse gases to regulation under the Clean Air Act, the Obama Administration prefers a legislative solution to the problem of climate change. See the EPA press release and the endangerment finding.

The EIA reports and the EPA endangerment finding also come as international negotiations on a climate change pact are underway in Copenhagen, Denmark. The United Nations (U.N.) climate change conference, technically known as the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP 15 for short, started on December 7 and runs through December 18. President Obama had planned to attend the conference on December 9, but he changed his plans and will now attend on December 18. The president's arrival near the end of the negotiations allows him to potentially play a role in achieving an international agreement. See the White House press release, the official U.N. COP-15 Web site, and the official U.S. COP-15 Web site.