New estimates show that emissions of greenhouse gases in the US rose 3.4 percent in 2018, the biggest uptick since 2010, and the second largest in over two decades, according to The Guardian.
The rise follows a series of moves by the Trump administration aimed at dismantling Obama-era climate and environmental regulations. It occurred despite 16 gigawatts of coal capacity being shut down last year, and coal consumption reaching its lowest level in almost 40 years.
But rising energy demand was met primarily using natural gas, which releases about half the amount of carbon that comes from coal power. So despite the increase, carbon emissions per unit of energy still declined.
Beyond the power sector, there were also increases in emissions from transportation, industry, and buildings.
A few factors contributed to the rise in energy demand. A colder winter than unusual increased demand for heating. This demand for natural gas also raised its price, allowing coal and oil to become more competitive, and further raising energy emissions.
Also, the US economy as a whole grew throughout the year, leading to more emissions from industry such as factories.
The estimates came from Rhodium Group, an independent research firm. In their report, the authors wrote:
“Absent a significant change in policy or a major technological breakthrough we expect the industrial sector to become an increasingly large share of US greenhouse gas (GHG) emission in the years ahead (including non-CO2 gases). We expect it to overtake power as the second leading source of emissions in California by 2020 and to become the leading source of emissions in Texas by 2022.”
In their tracking of carbon emissions, Rhodium had found a slight decrease from 2016 to 2017 – but this was in part due to a warm winter with reduced heating costs.
To justify its regulatory rollbacks, affecting fuel efficiency standards, Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and emissions rules for coal plants, the Trump administration has pointed to the emissions decline to argue that reductions can be achieved without the need for regulations.
“The Trump Administration has proven that federal regulations are not necessary to drive CO2 reductions,” acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement last year.
But as the effects of Obama-era policies begin to fade away, that argument is being called into question. Trevor Houser, a partner at Rhodium, says that emissions would be even higher without state and local measures put in place in recent years, adding:
“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 US emissions.”