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US EPA: Industrial greenhouse gas emissions fell 2.7% in 2017

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources extended a decadelong downward slope by falling 2.7% during 2017, according to new data released Oct. 17 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The data, collected under the EPA's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, showed a 4.5% drop in emissions from large power plants at the end of 2017 compared with a year earlier. Emissions from large electric generators have fallen nearly 20% since 2011, the first year of the reporting program.

The program collects data from large industrial sources that emit more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases annually. About half of all U.S. emissions or the equivalent of 2.91 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide were reported through the program in 2017, according to the EPA. Total greenhouse gas emissions by all U.S. sectors have been in gradual decline since 2007, a different EPA data set shows.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler cited President Donald Trump's deregulatory policy agenda in a statement applauding the drop in carbon dioxide and other climate change-causing emissions. "These achievements flow largely from technological breakthroughs in the private sector, not the heavy hand of government," Wheeler said. "The Trump administration has proven that federal regulations are not necessary to drive CO2 reductions."

The continued fall in U.S. emissions comes as global energy-related CO2 emissions climbed 1.4% in 2017, according to data released in March by the International Energy Agency, or IEA. The IEA report found U.S. emissions dropped by 0.5%, or 25 million tonnes, to 4,810 million tonnes of carbon emissions, marking the third consecutive year of decline. However, the agency estimated in an earlier report that economy-wide U.S. emissions could climb again in 2018 due in part to high economic growth, higher industrial energy use, increased vehicle usage and relatively low natural gas prices.

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Despite declines in U.S. power-sector emissions, the nation is still not on pace to meet Obama-era targets for cutting economy-wide emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 in accordance with the goals of the international Paris Agreement on climate change. Data released in September by the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed that transportation-related CO2 emissions the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased by 0.8% in 2017. Transportation-related CO2 emissions have increased every year since 2012, although they have not returned to 2007 pre-recession levels, according to the EIA.

Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA required automakers to raise the fuel economy for cars and light-duty trucks to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon for model years 2022 through 2025. The Trump EPA and the Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Aug. 2 proposed to suspend the rules and revoke California's waiver to set its own standards, arguing the higher standards would cost consumers money and lead to less safe vehicles.

The EPA on Oct. 17 also touted the Trump administration's proposed replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which sought to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement by encouraging U.S. utilities to depend more on zero-polluting generation such as wind and solar and low-emitting natural gas plants.

Under the Affordable Clean Energy, or ACE rule, CO2 emissions from the U.S. power sector would continue to decline, with a decrease projected of 34% below 2005 levels in one scenario, according to the EPA. But the ACE rule could also increase emissions compared to the Clean Power Plan by allowing some aging coal-fired power plants to make life-extending upgrades without triggering the need to install pollution controls.