U.S. Carbon Emissions Fell 1.3% in 2006

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2007

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions dropped slightly last year even as the economy grew, according to an initial estimate released yesterday by the Energy Information Administration.

The 1.3 percent drop in CO{-2} emissions marks the first time that U.S. pollution linked to global warming has declined in absolute terms since 2001 and the first time it has gone down since 1990 while the economy was thriving. Carbon dioxide emissions declined in both 2001 and 1991, in large part because of economic slowdowns during those years.

In 2006 the U.S. economy grew 3.3 percent, a fact President Bush touted yesterday as he hailed the government's "flash estimate" that the country's carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 78 million metric tons last year.

"We are effectively confronting the important challenge of global climate change through regulations, public-private partnerships, incentives, and strong economic investment," Bush said in a statement. "New policies at the federal, state, and local levels -- such as my initiative to reduce by 20 percent our projected use of gasoline within 10 years -- promise even more progress." A number of factors helped reduce emissions last year, according to the government, including weather conditions that reduced heating and air-conditioning use, higher gasoline prices that caused consumers to conserve, and a greater overall reliance on natural gas.

Edison Electric Institute spokesman Dan Riedinger, whose association supplies half of the nation's electricity, welcomed the news but noted that an increased demand for natural gas could prove costly over the long term.

"Investment in advanced coal, carbon capture and storage, and a host of other technologies is essential to making and sustaining significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions," Riedinger said.

Critics of the administration, including Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists, said the one-year decline did not prove Bush's voluntary approach to cutting greenhouse gases is working. They noted that the emissions have been rising worldwide since 1990 and that the rate accelerated to 3 percent a year between 2000 and 2004.

"This is more proof that this President just doesn't get it when it comes to combating climate change," Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement yesterday. "The house is on fire, and he's trying to douse the flames with a watering can. The science tells us that we need to reduce our emissions by 60-80% by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic damage."

Jeremy Symons, who directs the National Wildlife Federation's global warming program, said the administration estimates U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will rise more than 30 percent over the next 25 years.

"The question is why we don't have the leadership from Congress to set firm targets to cut pollution year after year," Symons said. "Unfortunately, until we have government mandates to cut global warming pollution from big polluters, this year's good news will be swallowed by the trend of rising pollution levels."

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