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Electricity’s Carbon Footprint in U.S. Shrinks, Sets Record

The carbon dioxide emissions of the electric power sector in the U.S. fell 5 percent in 2016. Credit: Hope Abrams/flickrThe carbon dioxide emissions of the electric power sector in the U.S. fell 5 percent in 2016.
Credit: Hope Abrams/flickr

All the right things came together in 2016 for the U.S. to shrink its carbon footprint in some dramatic and record-breaking ways, according to federal data released this week.

For two years in a row, carbon emissions from electric power plants in the U.S. fell by about 5 percent each year — the first time in more than 40 years of recordkeeping that emissions have fallen so dramatically over two consecutive years, according to U.S. Department of Energy data.

Overall, carbon dioxide emissions from energy use by Americans fell 1.7 percent last year, part of a decade-long slide in the carbon footprint of energy in the U.S.

The main reason is that Americans are using more renewable energy than ever before, and power plants, buildings and appliances have become more energy efficient, according to the DOE. Utilities are taking advantage of cheap, abundant natural gas brought about by the last decade’s fracking boom to reduce their reliance on coal.

Natural gas emits about half the carbon dioxide as coal when burned to generate electricity. It’s not a panacea for climate change, however. Drilling for natural gas also emits methane, which is 34 times as strong as carbon dioxide as a global

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