Slow economic growth attributed to decline in emissions

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions declined by 1.1 percent in 2001 -- the first such decline since 1991, when emissions decreased by 1.2 percent.
   According to preliminary estimates released Friday by the Energy Information Administration, the independent statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions decreased from 1,558 million metric tons of carbon equivalent in 2000 to 1,540 million metric tons in 2001. Emissions have averaged 1.2 percent annual growth since 1990.
   The administration said the decline in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions can be attributed to a reduction in overall economic growth from 4.1 percent in 2000 to 1.2 percent in 2001; a 4.4-percent reduction in manufacturing output that lowered industrial emissions; warmer winter weather that decreased the demand for heating fuels; and a drop in electricity demand and coal-fired power generation that reduced emissions growth from electricity generation.
   Because energy-related carbon dioxide emissions account for 81 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, they are a good indicator of the level of, and rate of change in, total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the administration.
   Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation's largest public power producer, has voluntarily adopted a program, at a cost of nearly $5 billion, to reduce nitrogen and sulfur emissions from its coal-fired plants by up to 85 percent over 1970 levels.
   Coal-fired plant emissions have been attributed to acid rain and diminished air quality. Particularly affected in Tennessee is the Great Smoky Mountains.
   In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency sued TVA and a dozen other utilities to impose tougher air quality standards under the Clean Air Act. On Friday, a three-judge panel from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case between EPA and TVA to a federal mediator in Atlanta to resolve the issue.
   EPA claims TVA violated the Clean Air Act for 20 years by making improvements at seven of its 11 coal-fired plants without installing new pollution control equipment. TVA claims the improvements were exempted because they were done under routine maintenance.
   Preliminary data from the Energy Information Administration indicate:
   * Residential-sector emissions grew by 1.8 percent as increased housing starts were tempered by warmer weather;
   * Commercial-sector carbon dioxide emissions increased by 6.2 percent due to increased commercial development;
   * Industrial-sector carbon dioxide emissions fell by 9.1 percent, as industrial production and manufacturing activity declined; and
   * Transportation-sector carbon dioxide emissions increased by 0.6 percent in 2001 as stronger growth early in the year was offset by declines in the fourth quarter.
   Petroleum-related carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.3 percent while coal-related carbon dioxide emissions fell by 1.9 percent in 2001. Natural gas-related carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 4.6 percent.
   The Department of Energy last week announced that two new, high-tech coal combustor improvements that potentially could cut smog-forming emissions to levels that rival more complex chemical devices now being installed at coal-burning plants.
   At the same time, the technologies, which have been demonstrated in pilot tests by Connecticut companies Alstom Power Inc. and Praxair Inc., could help utilities cut the cost of reducing pollutants by at least 25 percent.
   President Bush proposed major reductions in power plant emissions in February under the Clear Skies Initiative.