U.S. emissions fall as utilities ditch coal in favour of gas

Greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. slipped last year as coal-fired power plants continue to close.

Across the U.S. economy, emissions that cause climate change fell an estimated 2% in 2019, according to a report Tuesday from Rhodium Group. It was wholly due to cuts in the electricity sector.

The decline underscores the limitations of U.S. President Donald Trump’s pro-fossil fuel policies. While the White House has rolled back environmental regulations and tried to keep coal plants open, utilities are still shifting to cheaper and cleaner natural gas, wind and solar plants. U.S. coal consumption plunged an estimated 18% in 2019, to the lowest point since 1975.

“Coal plants are closing down and nobody is building new ones,” said Trevor Houser, a partner with Rhodium Group, an independent research firm and leading voice on emissions.

Getting Cleaner

Annual emissions have fluctuated in recent years, including a sharp uptick in 2018. But the general trend has been down, Houser said. U.S. emissions have declined about 13% since 2007.

Electricity generation accounts for about 30% of total U.S. emissions. Greenhouse gases from cars, trucks and the rest of the transportation sector were flat in 2019. Emissions from agriculture and industry increased slightly.

“The good news is that we’re making a lot of progress on electricity,” Houser said “There’s a lot more work to do in other sectors of the economy.”

(Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has committed $500 million to launch Beyond Carbon, a campaign aimed at closing the remaining coal-powered plants in the U.S. by 2030 and slowing the construction of new gas plants.)

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