NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Coal Train Chugs Along

June 28, 2013

Even without more regulations from the White House or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States continues to lead the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, according to BP's latest Statistical Review of World Energy. And while the United States may be cutting its coal use (and, therefore, its carbon dioxide emissions), the rest of the world continues to binge on coal, says Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

  • Last year, the United States reduced its emissions by 3.9 percent.
  • That reduction was larger than that of any other major industrialized country.
  • In contrast, China's carbon dioxide output soared by 6 percent and India's by 6.9 percent, while Brazil's rose by 2.5 percent and Mexico's by 4.3 percent.

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are falling largely because of a huge drop in coal consumption, which was down a whopping 11.9 percent in 2012. Domestic coal use is plummeting for several reasons. Among them are increasing regulatory burdens and the Obama administration's threat of new regulations specifically on carbon dioxide emissions.

The biggest factor, though, in America's success in cutting emissions has been the shale gale.

  • Domestic natural gas production was up 4.7 percent last year, to a record 65.7 billion cubic feet per day.
  • That increase in production has led to cheaper natural gas, and that cheap gas is displacing coal at the power plant.

The shale gale -- and the resulting drop in domestic carbon dioxide emissions -- is a remarkable story. Thanks to market forces, not government regulation, the United States is reducing its emissions faster than Europe is, even though the European Union has imposed myriad regulations aimed at cutting them. Indeed, last year carbon dioxide emissions rose by 1.3 percent in Germany, the European Union's largest economy.

While American utilities are switching from coal to gas, electricity generators around the world are swarming to the coal market. Global coal use will continue to rise because global demand for electricity continues to rise, and that demand is being met largely with coal.

The fundamental problem with Obama's approach to carbon dioxide emissions is the idea that the United States can solve the problem. No matter what the United States does, emissions will continue to soar, because so many people in the developing world want to come out of the dark and into the bright lights of modernity.

Source: Robert Bryce, "The Coal Train Chugs Along," National Review, June 24, 2013.


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