Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions declined by 2.8% last year compared to 2007, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy reported in a "flash" preliminary report this week.
That's 165 million metric tons less of air pollution versus the prior year. It is the largest annual decrease since the EIA began tracking greenhouse gases.
The report may well play into the debate about our energy future. The U.S. House is currently considering the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which calls for cutting greenhouse emissions by 17% over the next 11 years and 83% by 2050, reports the Associated Press. Opponents of the bill say it will impose burdensome new costs on the economy.
Several factors contributed to the decline, EIA says, primarily high energy prices and the worldwide recession.
Gasoline and diesel prices were at an all-time high at mid year. They fell toward the end of the year, but demand remained lower because consumers were feeling the pinch from the sluggish economy. GDP growth was only 1.1% for the year, which included a drop of some 6.3% (annual rate) in the fourth quarter.
Petroleum emissions in 2008 were down 155 million metric tons.
Coal emissions fell 23 million metric tons, or 1.1%
Natural gas emissions rose by 1% (13 million metric tons)
Oil use in transportationthe biggest source of carbon dioxide emissionswas down 1,434 trillion BTU's in 2008 versus '07, but it remains the largest emitter among what the EIA calls "end-use" sectors.
The industrial sector is in second place, but has been declining for the last nearly two decades.
The residential sector is third, but has grown by an average 1.4% a year since 1990.
The smallest emitter sector is commercial, which has the highest growth rate over the last two decades, an average 1.8% increase annually.
Electric power sector emissions declined in 2008, due to lower demand and a decrease in all fossil fuel generation.