EPA and Greenhouse Gases

The EPA published a report “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2007” which has a wealth of data about the topic that we have been arguing, both emotionally and rationally for several years.  I thought it would be a good idea to read this report and see what the facts, as written by the EPA, really are.

The main topics of the report are Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N20).  The data presented creates a single metric, known as a Teragram CO2 equivalent to compare the effect of all three gases, since all have a slightly different impact on warming of the atmosphere.  This warming is the main target of the Copenhagen talks, with the UN conference seeking to limit the change in average temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2030.

First, a little context:  from 1990 to 2007, the population of the US increased from 248 million to 301 million, or an increase of 21% from the 1990 figure.  Our GDP increased from 7.1 Trillion to 13.1 Trillion or an increase of 84% over the 1990 level in the same time period.

The study shows that the amount of estimated CO2 equivalents released by sources in the US has grown by 17 percent over the 18 years covered by the study, or an increase of about 1% per year, and less than the rate of population increase.

The study details the increases by economic sector and finds that greenhouse gas emissions rose 31% in electrical generation during the period, and that transportation saw a 29% rise in emissions, while the number of vehicle miles rose 40%.  The fact that emissions rose at a rate 75% of the total vehicle miles traveled seems lost on the EPA–this is a very good news story, even as it was unfolding during the ‘SUV era.’  The report also shows that while emissions rose, the amount of N20, nitrous oxide, fell by 33% during the period.

During that same period, their category “Industry” showed a net decline of 7%. Again, that good news seems lost in their report.

The report shows that the amount of methane emitted from landfills has decreased by over 12% during the report period, in spite of the obvious growth in landfill areas caused by the increase in population.  The EPA grudgingly admits the reduction is due in part to capture of the methane for use as a fuel for industrial processes (See Johnson & Johnson and other ‘green’ companies).  This is a good thing, and it could be encouraged with relatively little effort.

The report also shows that the contribution from residential sources has remained essentially constant over the reporting period– even though the number of residential housing units went from 102 million in 1990 to 127 million in 2007, an increase of 24%, according to the US Census Bureau .  “Cash for Caulkers” doesn’t appear to be a useful allocation of funds we don’t have when it only addresses about 4% of the total problem.

The report also documents the rise in TgCO2 equivalents caused by two things we were told would be good for the environment:  replacement of CFCs and composting.  Both contributions are relatively minor, on the order of .4% of the total, but when we are being driven to reduce emissions by 15 or 17%, that could become an issue later on.

The amount of CO2 ‘sequestered’ or absorbed by forests and agriculture rose from 661 to 901 TgCO2 equivalents during the period of the report.  While we were being barraged with reports of suburban sprawl and the decimation of the environment, the reality is a bit different. Forested land increased by 4.5% and ‘urban forests’ increased as well.  So much, that they were able to absorb 12% of the total emissions in 2007.  The report credits actions of re-forestation and planting in the 70s and 80s, 10 to 20 years before the measurement period, for the rise in this category.  This shows the folly of ‘offset credits’ to plant trees for pollution being created ‘now’ — it obviously takes time to establish this cure.  If we truly have only ‘months’ to save the planet, paying Mr. Gore and his cronies to plant trees today won’t matter much.

The report clearly shows that electrical generation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US.  If we want to address this issue, we need to find other ways to reliably generate electricity which do not emit GHG.  There are reasonably few choices:  nuclear, wind and solar.  Nuclear is the only source that can consistently deliver energy 24/7; wind and solar can help add power for peak loads and such, but they are proving to be far more expensive, requiring a great deal of subsidy, wherever they are in wide scale use. Both Germany and Spain have found that wind and solar cost almost 3 times what fossil or nuclear power costs.  Passing ‘Cap and Trade’ will not alter this fact–it will only make generating more energy more expensive and impede economic growth.

The most striking thing about this report for me is that it describes the reality behind the hysteria:  the US has been and is doing responsible things to reduce pollution — in this case, greenhouse gases.  We have been making progress over the past 18 years to ‘bend the curve down’ and reduce the amount of emissions.

We have had a tremendous increase in regulations from the EPA during the same period, but it is also apparent that the complete lack of nuclear power development over the past 18 years significantly reduced our ability to achieve even greater reductions in GHG.

The environmental lobby and its uneven, emotion driven agenda which seeks to control individual behavior is missing the boat completely here.  It’s time to leave them to their protests and craft some sensible policies and laws that achieve results without destroying our economy.

From my read of this study, it is possible to have economic development and environmental stewardship at the same time. Let’s take this on directly as conservatives, and show a better way.