U.S. emissions of global-warming greenhouse gases fell 2.7 percent in 2017, despite the Trump administration's efforts to revive coal use in the U.S., the EPA announced on Monday.
The EPA released data for 2017, showing an even larger 4.5 percent drop in emissions from power plants compared with 2016, as more coal plants are retired. So electric cars using that energy—not just new electric cars, but any—get that much cleaner.
The 2.7 percent decrease in total greenhouse-gas emissions comes despite an increase in emissions from transportation from having more cars on the road.
The Trump administration was quick to take credit for the improvement. In a statement announcing the finding, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said, "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. These achievements flow largely from technological breakthroughs in the private sector, not the heavy hand of government. The Trump Administration has proven that federal regulations are not necessary to drive CO2 reductions."
Many economists have credited cheap natural gas for making it uneconomical for utilities to continue burning coal in powerplants.
The EPA announced plans in August to scrap an Obama administration plan to force coal plants to reduce emissions of carbon-dioxide, either by switching to cleaner natural gas or by building complex and expensive carbon-capture technology. The plan was never implemented following a court injunction.
At the same time, renewable energy production surged 20 percent from 2016 to 2017, making up 18 percent of total energy production in the U.S., including wind, solar, and hydro-electric power. Renewable energy use has doubled since 2008.
Cleaner electricity improves the effective efficiency of electric cars. And having fewer coal-fired power plants increases the number of areas where electric cars can be expected to be cleaner to drive than very efficient gas hybrids.
Overall energy use also declined in 2017, down 0.2 percent. It doesn't sound like much, but seeing an overall reduction in a year when the economy expanded is exceptional.
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