The country's greenhouse gas emissions have been dropping significantly. Get excited. But not too excited.
The Environmental Protection Agency reported last month that the greenhouse gas output from power plants, the nation's biggest emitters, dropped by an astounding 10 percent between 2010 and 2012. Last year alone, greenhouse emissions over the whole economy declined by 4.5 percent. In a separate report, the Energy Information Administration noted that the recent progress on emissions came even as the economy and the population grew. The country has been using less energy to produce more wealth and, in the process, is producing fewer emissions.
Though they are separate analyses, both reports point strongly to the same conclusions. A primary driver of the emissions dip has been a widespread switch from the burning of coal to the burning of natural gas to produce electricity. When combusted, natural gas releases about half the carbon dioxide as does coal. The increasing use of novel drilling techniques commonly known as fracking has opened up vast gas plays for production in places such as Pennsylvania and Texas. That has driven domestic natural gas prices down and made switching away from burning coal an economical choice for utilities.