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Good News, Bad News from New EIA Emissions Analysis

There was good news and bad to be mined from a state-by-state analysis of carbon emissions over a decade, which was released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Overall, the EIA reported that between 2000 and 2010, 38 states saw an overall drop in their annual energy-related carbon emissions, but between 2009 and 2010, as the economy began to rebound, most states’ overall fuel consumption increased and their carbon emissions rose.

How each state ranks depends on several factors. Texas, for example, has been the nation’s biggest carbon emitter for years, but it also has the country’s largest overall drop in carbon emissions since 2000. In contrast, Delaware had the biggest percentage decrease in emissions during the past decade (30 percent), but it is also the third-smallest emitter in the U.S. overall, so that decrease isn’t particularly important on the national level.

The amount of carbon dioxide each state emits from its energy use depends on many things, including the population, the climate (very cold and very warm states use a lot of energy for heating and air conditioning, respectively), and manufacturing and other economic activities. What fossil fuels are used in the state also matter. Burning coal produces more carbon emissions per unit of energy than oil, which in turn produces more than natural gas. And states with many people driving long distances end up with lots of carbon emissions from burning gasoline.

The EIA analysis looked at carbon emissions that came from gas-powered cars and coal and gas-fired electricity generation, but it also included emissions from any fossil fuel burned in homes, businesses and industry.

Here’s a look at what the new EIA data show about the top five biggest emitters.

Texas

the bad news: Texas has long been the biggest CO2 emitting state in the country, producing more than 650 million tons of CO2 each year. That’s nearly double the next biggest-emitting state, California.

the good news: Texas’ energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have shrunk by about 8 percent since 2000 and during that time, it’s been relying on less carbon-intensive forms of energy. On a per capita basis, Texans produce only slightly more emissions than the national average.   

California

the bad news: As the nation’s most populous state, California emits the second-largest amount of carbon dioxide from its energy use. In 2010, California produced nearly 370 million tons of CO2 and more than half of that came from the transportation sector.

the good news: California’s per capita emissions are the third lowest in the country -- behind Rhode Island and Idaho -- and over the past decade, these per capita emissions have dropped by more than 10 percent.   

Pennsylvania

the bad news: With nearly half of its electricity generated from burning coal, Pennsylvania is among the worst states in terms of how much carbon emissions come from its electricity sector.

the good news: Since 2000, Pennsylvania has seen the fourth-largest drop in overall energy-related carbon emissions, which have dropped by more than 7 percent. 

Ohio

the bad news: Ohio has the nation’s second largest carbon-emitting electricity sector, with nearly 80 percent of its electricity coming from burning coal.

the good news: Over the past decade, Ohio has decreased its overall carbon emissions by more than 5 percent, slightly more than the national average.

Florida

the bad news: Florida’s energy-related carbon emissions topped 240 million tons in 2010, which is nearly 3 percent larger than it was 10 years ago (most states have decreased their energy-related emissions over that same time).

the good news: Florida has the ninth-lowest per capita emissions and, like most other states, Florida has seen an overall decarbonization of its energy supply over the past decade. 
 

Comments

By Roy (84103)
on May 15th, 2013

Texas has a lot of energy infrastructure such as refineries that makes products that other states use.  Is that factored into this type of analysis?

Reply to this comment

By Dave (Basking Ridge, NJ 07920)
on May 15th, 2013

I appreciate the article. I think it is really vital that we keep a critical focus on US carbon emission statistics. Unfortunately reporting carbon emissions in the way this EIA report does requires an act of faith by the reader.  Emissions data are known to be vulnerable. Vulnerable to interpretation, to omissions and even to bias.

My own concern in this respect has to do with the national accounting of fugitive emissions from fracking because methane is such a much more potent GHG than CO2. The EPA estimates 2.3% fugitive emissions from natural gas operations. That is a very precise number. On the other hand, the natural gas industry estimates that it is 1.6%.  That is a significantly different very precise number. However, even those numbers considered as a less precise range of say 1.5 to 2.5% would still be misleading. This is because no study has yet been done which can provide an accurate figure for the system wide leakage rate. This is important because a few percent error there makes a huge difference to these types of data. To make things worse, some estimates from independent studies range up to 9% fugitive methane emissions from fracking operations. The truth is that we don’t really know what it is nation wide. If you ask an experienced geo person what kind of losses are typical for let’s say oil operations, as I have, they’ll tell you that 4 to 8% is not unusual and that a similar number for natural gas extraction wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. So I think we really need to look at least at this aspect very carefully as we evaluate the information contained in these types of official emissions reports, wherever they come from.

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