After 40 or so years away from the “gold medal” position, the US transportation sector has once again emerged to claim the mantle of being the top contributor of carbon emissions in the country, according to a new report from the US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG).
What this means is that the transportation sector is now responsible for more annual carbon emissions in the US than the utility (electric power), industrial, residential, or commercial sectors.
The new report cites data provided by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) detailing the last 12 months of carbon emissions for the various sectors.
Green Car Reports states that the “12-month total covering May 2015 to April 2016 (the most recent available) shows transportation producing the highest levels of carbon emissions. That was also the case for the 12-month periods ending in February 2016 and March 2016, US PIRG notes. The group attributes this to growth in transportation-related emissions, but also to decreases in other areas, such as electric power.”
The slow phaseout in recent times of coal-fired power plants has certainly played a part in the transition. For all their faults, gas-fired power plants (and certainly solar photovoltaic and wind energy facilities as well) simply aren’t responsible for as much direct carbon pollution as coal-fired power plants are. (The natural gas production industry is of course responsible for significant, and not always recognized, emissions all its own — and there is a lot of methane leakage unreported.)
During this same period of decline in the coal industry, the transportation sector has continued growing. More and more people are driving everyday, and the low gasoline prices that we’ve had as of late have led to nearly record-high rates of automobile travel. There’s also been very strong growth in the pickup truck and SUV markets — vehicles that are certainly not known for their fuel efficiency.