The Environment

Some Good News About U.S. Carbon Emissions


Greenhouse gas emissions from power and industrial plants in the U.S. fell 4.5 percent in 2012, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency, and they’re down 10 percent since emissions tracking from the power sector began in 2010.

Although Americans are consuming slightly less electricity, much of the decline in emissions has resulted from natural gas displacing coal. By April 2012, natural gas had achieved parity with coal as a source of electricity. Since November 2012, though, coal has been on a comeback thanks to its ultralow price. Coal is now generating 40 percent or more of the nation’s electricity each month, according to the Energy Information Administration, and it will be interesting to see if 2013 brings a slight rise in greenhouse gas emissions as a result.

Data: Energy Information Agency

The best news from all of this is that retail prices for electricity have held fairly steady, even as U.S. power has gotten less dirty.

Data: EIA

One startling fact: Ten percent of the nation’s power plants and industrial factories produced 76 percent of the emissions. As the EPA notes, the “770 largest-emitting facilities—those emitting more than 780,000 metric tons of CO2e [carbon dioxide equivalent]—accounted for almost 2.4 billion metric tons CO2e.” That’s out of a total of 3.1 billion metric tons the U.S. produced generating power.

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Philips is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @matthewaphilips.

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