The Trump administration has frequently deflected responsibility for regulating greenhouse gas emissions to limit climate change by arguing that emissions are on the decline in the US anyway.
“Thanks to President Trump’s regulatory reform agenda, the economy is booming, energy production is surging, and we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions from major industrial sources,” said acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement last year. “The Trump Administration has proven that federal regulations are not necessary to drive CO2 reductions.”
According to new data, that’s no longer true.
The Rhodium Group on Tuesday reported that US energy-related greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2018 by 3.4 percent, the second-largest margin in 20 years, reversing a three-year decline. It’s an alarming shift, especially given that scientists recently warned that we are running out of time to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century.
For the third year in a row, the largest source of US greenhouse gas emissions, Rhodium reports, is the transportation sector, fueled by greater demand from industry, diesel trucks, and air travel. It’s followed by power generation, industry, and buildings.
Even though cleaner energy sources like wind and solar are expanding rapidly, it’s not enough to keep emissions overall from rising: Power sector emissions still grew by 1.9 percent last year. That increase came even though the United States retired 16 gigawatts of coal-fired power capacity and saw coal consumption dip to its lowest levels in 39 years. The reason? Energy demand still rose, and natural gas largely filled the void. Natural gas emits about half the carbon dioxide of coal, so the emissions intensity — the amount of carbon dioxide released per unit of energy — still fell.
The United States is already off course for its commitments under the Paris climate agreement to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and now the gap is even wider. President Trump announced in 2017 his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement, which can’t happen until 2020.
The bitter truth is that cost declines in renewables, technology improvements, and market forces won’t make a meaningful dent in greenhouse gas emissions without federal policy.
And the Trump administration is running in the opposite direction, advancing policies that would increase emissions, including freezing fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, rolling back the Clean Power Plan which limits emissions for existing power plants, and relaxing carbon dioxide emissions restrictions on new coal power plants. And despite the ongoing government shutdown, the Interior Department is still advancing fossil fuel extraction, including drilling in the Arctic.