Increased Greenhouse Emissions Decried

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 13, 2007

Carbon dioxide emissions in Virginia rose about 34 percent from 1990 to 2004, a rate nearly twice the national average, as increases in driving and electricity production made the state more reliant on fuels linked to climate change, according to a report issued yesterday.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group said it compiled the report from federal data and found that emissions of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, grew 18 percent nationally in the 15-year period. Emissions also increased in Maryland, by 16 percent, but in the District, they declined, according to the environmental and consumer group.

Virginia's growth rate ranked 13th among those for the states. Environmentalists blamed the increase in part on the state's development patterns, which have produced far-flung suburbs and long commutes.

Overall, climate activists said, the report paints a troubling picture of the region's appetite for fossil-fuel energy. Even as climate change became an urgent political issue, the region, especially Virginia, was producing steadily more of the pollutants believed to cause it.

"Scientists are telling us that we need to make dramatic reductions," said Rose Garr, Mid-Atlantic organizer for U.S. PIRG. "And we are just sprinting in the opposite direction."

Virginia officials defended the state yesterday, citing a range of environmental measures put in place in the past year. Initiatives are intended to rein in sprawl, retrofit school buses to cut pollution and encourage electric utilities to produce more renewable energy.

"Historically, Virginia has not done enough, but . . . I don't think we were unlike a lot of other states," said L. Preston Bryant Jr., state secretary of natural resources. He added, "I think you're going to see Virginia starting to move in the right direction."

Scientists say carbon dioxide, a gas produced by burning fossil fuels, is one of several gases that accumulate in the atmosphere, trapping heat from the sun. In February, a United Nations report said it was "very likely" that such gases were largely responsible for a global temperature increase of about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.

Yesterday's report is an attempt to show how much each state is contributing to the problem. U.S. PIRG said it took U.S. Department of Energy estimates of fossil-fuel energy use and calculated how much carbon dioxide was emitted as a result. The group said this is the first such report to include state-by-state emission estimates from 2004.

The report showed that emissions had declined in the District, from 4.4 million metric tons in 1990 to 4 million in 2004, as the city's population decreased. That relatively small drop was, however, dwarfed by the emission increases in Maryland and Virginia.

In Maryland, emissions increased by 11 million metric tons, to 81 million. The state's overall rate of increase, 16 percent, was much smaller than the rates for two subsections: coal-fired power plants, 28 percent, and cars and trucks, 32 percent.

Brad Heavner of Environment Maryland, a U.S. PIRG affiliate, said that although Maryland's emissions were increasing more slowly than the national average, the findings were still a sign of failure.


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