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My friend and colleague, Isaac Orr, has written and spoken extensively concerning how the increased use of natural gas to generate electricity due to the steep decline in natural gas prices because of the fracking revolution has resulted in a dramatic decline in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
Two recent stories confirm Isaac’s assessment.
The Associated Press reports the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions have fallen substantially, with 2016’s emissions expected to be the lowest in 25 years. President Barack Obama’s signature effort to reduce emissions, the Clean Power Plan, has been stayed by the courts. So what’s behind the decline? A dramatic increase in our use of cleaner-burning natural gas. “We are leading the world in carbon reductions today, and it’s driven primarily by cleaner-burning, affordable natural gas that was brought to you by innovation and technological advances in the oil and natural gas industry,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute.
The AP article points out Obama had little to do with the fracking boom, except to be slow to regulate fracking.
A second article makes the case the Obama administration’s clean power plan is both unnecessary and could possibly be counterproductive to a continuing decline in carbon dioxide emissions (should one think a decline in carbon dioxide is either necessary or desirable).
A story in the Monitor notes, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) aiming to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, may be unnecessary. Texas State Geologist Scott Tinker who wrote the piece notes 2015 carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. electric power sector were already 20 percent below 2005 levels. He asks why we need CPP to meet the emissions reduction goal:
If the pace of CO2 reduction from 2005 to 2015 continues into 2030, CO2 emissions could be around 1,300 million metric tons — a 45 percent reduction from 2005 and substantially lower than the goals of the Clean Power Plan.
Confused? So am I. Why push for a Clean Power Plan if we are already two-thirds of the way there and headed — without federal intervention — lower than the ultimate goal of the plan?
Tinker suggests the reason might have to do a bit with politics. The states required under CPP to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions the least tended to vote Democrat in the 2012 presidential race, while those that have to reduce their emissions the most tended to vote Republican.
We should not judge political motivation or intention, but we do need to look at actual outcomes. … [T]he United States has made great progress thus far, even if not orchestrated, without federal policy or agency rules.
Nonetheless, some still argue the Clean Power Plan is needed, perhaps on philosophical or moral grounds. But if the goal is actual reductions in CO2 emissions, the road to green is not always a federal highway.