The Associated Press reports that new data from the Energy Information Administration shows that U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide emissions are back down to their 1992 levels:
In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.
Many of the world's leading climate scientists didn't see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.
Scientists didn't see it coming? Well, it's not like they understand how markets work; even markets as heavily regulated as energy production is.
The AP further reports:
While conservation efforts, the lagging economy and greater use of renewable energy are factors in the CO2 decline, the drop-off is due mainly to low-priced natural gas, the agency said.
A frenzy of shale gas drilling in the Northeast's Marcellus Shale and in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana has caused the wholesale price of natural gas to plummet from $7 or $8 per unit to about $3 over the past four years, making it cheaper to burn than coal for a given amount of energy produced. As a result, utilities are relying more than ever on gas-fired generating plants.
Both government and industry experts said the biggest surprise is how quickly the electric industry turned away from coal. In 2005, coal was used to produce about half of all the electricity generated in the U.S. The Energy Information Agency said that fell to 34 percent in March, the lowest level since it began keeping records nearly 40 years ago.
Lots of environmental activists dislike cheap natural gas because it outcompetes their first loves, photovoltaic and wind power. It spooks the nuke folks too. I noted a Washington Post headline back in February that actually read: "Cheap Gas Jumbles Energy Markets, Stirs Fears that It Could Inhibit Renewables." As the Post reported then:
Rachel Cleetus, a senior climate economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that "the problem is [natural gas] can take over the entire pie and crowd out renewables. Part of the reason this is happening is there's a boom and there's a sense that natural gas resources will be around forever."
…the economic issue is disruptive, too. The rush to produce shale gas "is forcing all of us to seriously address what it means for us," said Ralph Izzo, chief executive of Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), a New Jersey-based utility that relies on nuclear energy for half of its power supply. Izzo said it would mean "the delay of the nuclear renaissance for years to come."
I ask again: Can an energy source be all that bad if it scares the two most heavily subsidized sectors of the electric power generation industry?