08/07/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

EIA: US Emissions Diving More Than 4% in 2009

As I wrote last month would probably happen, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) lowered its estimate for fossil fuel energy demand in 2009, translating into a huge drop in greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions projections for coal, oil, and natural gas were all lowered in its July Short Term Energy Outlook -- meaning, by my calculations, that US emissions are expected to fall 4.3% this year alone.

The Details

After 2008 witnessed a US emissions fall of almost 3% (due mostly to oil demand decreasing in response to higher prices), all fossil fuels are contributing to this year's emissions drop. Coal has the biggest drop, now estimated to be ~6.9% due to lower industrial demand and low-priced natural gas replacing some coal in the electricity sector. Oil demand is revised downward from June to a fall of 3.3% for the year. And natural gas was revised downward to a consumption level 2.3% below 2008. All of these drops translate into energy-related emissions that are 4.3% below last year.

1990 Levels Not Far Away

Such a drop would make 2009 emissions just ~6.5% above 1990 levels and already 7.5% below 2005 levels. It would make 1990 emissions levels within reach by 2015 and the Waxman-Markey goal of 17% below 2005 achievable by 2017 (rather than 2020) by just reducing emissions 1% per year going forward.

Room for Further Reductions in 2009

And I believe the EIA may still underestimate 2009 reduction in fossil fuel energy demand. Its prediction that oil demand will fall 3.3% is slower than the current consumption decrease rate above 5%. And coal demand is also falling faster than 8% so far this year (rather than the ~6.9% EIA predicts). Continuing current demand trends could send emissions down more than 5% in 2009.

Looking Ahead

The EIA predicts some rebound in energy demand in 2010, but only a fraction of this year's drop. In fact, the .8% expected recovery in electricity demand in 2010 could be provided in full by wind, solar, and geothermal rather than switching the fossil fuel plants back on.

Bottom line: US greenhouse gas emissions are falling quickly in 2009 and bringing us within close reach (a few years) of 1990 levels. This fact means that the Senate can comfortably promote Waxman-Markey's goal of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 or even strengthen it back to 20% below 2005 levels by 2020. We need their leadership to get climate legislation to the President's desk. Renewable energy and efficiency are ready to simultaneously drive economic growth, create jobs, and lower our nation's emissions. I will keep you updated on progress as it happens.

Onwards in the Sustainable Energy Transition-