US Carbon Emissions Spiked in 2018, Even as Coal Plants Closed

The gas-powered Valley Generating Station is seen in the San Fernando Valley

The gas-powered Valley Generating Station is seen in the San Fernando Valley

That's according to a report out today from the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm that tracks Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.

The U.S.is the world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), behind China, and followed by the European Union and India.

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. The result is that any chance of hitting the original Obama goal has diminished, said the Rhodium Group's Houser. "This year makes it abundantly clear that energy market trends alone - the low cost of natural gas, the increasing competitiveness of renewables - are not enough to deliver sustained declines in USA emissions".

The figures also show that the President's efforts to boost demand for coal have not succeeded yet, with electricity generated from this fossil fuel continuing to decline. In 2018, coal consumption dropped to 691 million short tons - a 4 percent decrease from 2017 - to reach the lowest point since 1979, according to the EIA. Emissions from buildings and homes was way up, due in part to an exceptionally cold winter in parts of the US a year ago.

But the largest emissions growth came from two sectors "often ignored in clean energy and climate policymaking: buildings and industry". According to the report, the first nine months of 2018 yielded a meager 0.1 percent decline in demand for gasoline.

The nation's industrial sectors saw emissions increase by 5.7 percent.

"This highlights the challenges in decarbonizing the transportation sector beyond light-duty vehicles", the reports states of the trend.

Fuels consumed by the transport sector were for the third year in a row the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

The report underscores an unusual upside to an economic downturn: When the economy shrinks, greenhouse gas emissions also go down.

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

HOUSER: What we've seen is backsliding in federal policy, and we're starting to feel the effects of that now.

A new analysis shows USA greenhouse gas levels are increasing as the Trump administration unravels efforts to slow climate change.

As the report notes, there are "the forgotten sectors", too, that are also responsible for the increase - the buildings and industry sectors, which are estimated to make up for largest emissions growth in 2018. Power demand increased as the economy grew and utilities burned more natural gas to meet it, outpacing more than 14 GW of expected coal capacity closures in the year.

The increase was also driven by greater demand for diesel and aviation fuel as Americans flew more and shipped more goods by trucks, and by a bigger need for heating oil during a cold winter previous year.

When the US Geological Survey announced a major discovery of oil and natural gas underneath Texas and New Mexico in December, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called it a gift. That makes it the second highest annual gain of Carbon dioxide emissions in over two decades, according to a new report from the Rhodium Group, an independent economic data and policy research firm. That's what happened in the throes of the financial crisis in 2008 - carbon dioxide emissions plummeted.

Currently, the world is 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels, thanks to human activity.

In the 2015 climate accord, then President Barack Obama committed to reducing U.S. emissions to at least 26% under 2005 levels by 2025.

Scott said, "Whether in transportation or in heating buildings, biodiesel is a cleaner option that can make a substantial difference today". They rose 3.6 percent that year.

2018 is an anomaly because each year, since 2015, USA carbon emissions had been decreasing, if modestly, as the nation worked to reach its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement.

In other words, an unprecedented pace for the U.S.