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U.S. marks greenhouse gas decline

Times Staff Writer

The Bush administration reported a small drop in greenhouse gas emissions for the United States last year, the first decline since 2001, but the emissions still represented a sizable increase over the last decade and a half.

The gases, including carbon dioxide, are widely blamed for global warming.

The Energy Information Administration said that in 2006 the United States released 1.5% fewer tons than in 2005.

The increase over 1990, which is used as a base year in international deliberations on long-range targets for gas reductions, was 15.1%.

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The White House drew attention to the decline on the eve of a meeting in Bali, Indonesia, to launch negotiations on a global treaty to reduce such emissions.

President Bush said in a written statement that, when measured against economic growth, it demonstrated “the largest annual improvement since 1985.”

However, the government agency attributed the reduced emissions to several factors -- one of which, “favorable weather conditions,” the administration had no hand in creating; and a second, higher energy prices, for which it would not want to claim responsibility.

The energy agency also said the reduction was due to a greater use of nonfossil fuels and natural gas in generating electricity.

The burning of fossil fuels, such as petroleum products and coal, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, creating a layer that traps heat close to the Earth’s surface and creates the “greenhouse effect” linked to global warming.

Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University’s environmental economics program, said that although any year-to-year decrease is a positive development, long-range targets under consideration call for decreases by 2050 in the range of 50% to 80% compared with 1990.

Those decreases represent the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that some scientists estimate would be needed to avoid serious consequences of global warming. Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said the previous one-year drop in 2001 was the result of a recession.

The decrease in emissions -- the equivalent of 117 million tons of carbon -- reported by the government Wednesday would be sufficient to hit the long-range targets if repeated each year. Emissions in 2005 increased 16.8% over 1990. They have increased 3.2% since the Bush administration took office in 2001.

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Stavins said he was “skeptical of making the inference” that the United States could address the challenge posed by climate change “without any government mandates.”

In addition to reporting the total tonnage of gases emitted, the Bush administration compared the tons emitted to economic growth.

Using this measure of “greenhouse gas intensity,” it reported a reduction of nearly 28% since 1990. That reflects an economy growing at a much faster pace than the gas emissions, but also a shift away from the energy-intensive manufacturing industry.

David Sandalow, an assistant secretary of State specializing in the environment during the Clinton administration, noted that some European nations with economies similar to that of the United States had achieved greater emissions reductions.

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james.gerstenzang@latimes.com


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