Emissions of greenhouse gases in the US fell 2.7 percent in 2017, as coal power plants have closed in the face of increasingly stiff competition from natural gas and renewables like wind and solar, according to Reuters. The new figures were announced by the Trump administration earlier this week.
Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, said the emissions cuts validate Trump’s policy of rolling back regulations.
“Thanks to President Trump’s regulatory reform agenda, the economy is booming, energy production is surging, and we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions from major industrial sources,” he said in a press release.
However, Trump has also said he is working to prevent the shuttering of coal plants, which has continued. In 2017 alone, 9,000 megawatts of coal powered plants were either shut down or converted to natural gas. Large power plant emissions fell 4.5 percent. Power companies are expecting to close another 14,000 MW worth of coal power plants through 2018.
Many of Trump’s most loyal supporters are in states like West Virginia with economies heavily dependent on the coal sector. A plan from energy secretary Rick Perry to subsidize the plants on the basis of national security has reportedly been shelved, due to concerns over funding, according to Politico.
The statement highlights a pattern of mixed messages from the administration on its goals with regard to climate change and emissions. Trump has said he believes the climate is changing, but remains unconvinced that human activity is the primary cause. And this comes after he said during his campaign that climate change was simply a hoax. Despite Wheeler’s statement, it remains unclear whether reducing emissions is a priority for the White House.
In any case, emissions have been falling steadily since 2007, with analysts suggesting that cheaper natural gas is the main driver. Though not as clean as wind or solar, emissions from natural gas are lower than those from coal. Coal has made up a shrinking portion of US energy since it peaked in 2007. It now accounts for 14 percent of US energy consumption.
The decrease in emissions in 2017 was even higher than the previous year, when emissions fell just 2 percent.
In September, a report from the Energy Information Administration showed that energy-related carbon emissions had fallen to their lowest levels since 1993. However, they warned that a 2 percent increase in overall emissions was likely to follow this year, as a result of economic expansion.