SUN DAY Campaign Says EIA Has Been Misleading about U.S. CO2 Emissions Reductions

Two reports/news releases issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) during the past few weeks give the impression that the U.S. is making consistent and significant progress in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the energy sector. However, an analysis by the SUN DAY Campaign of more recent, but largely unpublicized, EIA data indicate this positive news is both obsolete and misleading.

On September 25, EIA issued a report/news release titled “U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions decreased 0.9% in 2017.”

On October 29, EIA issued a second, similar report/news release titled “Carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. power sector have declined 28% since 2005.”

The SUN DAY Campaign is not challenging the factual accuracy of either report, both of which summarize data only through the end of 2017. However, more recent data provided by EIA in its “Monthly Energy Review” paint a very different picture and suggest reasonable cause for alarm.

The latest “Monthly Energy Review” (released on Oct. 26 with data through July 31, 2018) reveals that U.S. CO2 emissions from energy consumption during each of the first seven months of 2018 exceeded the levels reported for the corresponding months in 2017.

In fact, U.S. CO2 emissions from energy consumption (including biomass, geothermal and non-biomass waste) during the first seven months of 2018 are actually 2.81 percent higher than a year ago. Those from fossil fuels alone (coal, petroleum, natural gas) are 2.90 percent higher while those from just natural gas zoomed upward by 12.00 percent.

Further, the higher actual levels of CO2 emissions thus far reported for this year exceed the 2.2 percent increase recently forecast by EIA for calendar year 2018 in its latest “Short-Term Energy Outlook” (issued Oct. 10). Perhaps the final 12-month actual figure will more closely match EIA’s projection but the trend-line to date is not encouraging.

Overall, if the current growth rate continues, CO2 emissions from energy consumption in 2018 will be back up to approximately the level they were in 2015, thereby reversing the downward and encouraging trajectory EIA’s earlier reports highlighted. (EIA’s “Short-Term Energy Outlook” does forecast 2019 CO2 emissions to be 1.1 percent lower than those in 2018.)

“EIA’s recent, well-publicized reports unintentionally give those concerned about global climate change a false sense of security by implying that the U.S. is moving in the right direction vis-à-vis its CO2 emissions,” notes Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “That is not correct and in light of recent warning by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of how little time is left to dramatically reverse greenhouse-gas emissions, the publication of out-of-date information is counter-productive and potentially dangerous.”

Consequently, in a Nov. 2 letter to EIA Administrator Linda Capuano (the text of which follows this release), the SUN DAY Campaign urged EIA to issue a separate study or analysis that focuses on the most recent CO2 emissions data and to include the most up-to-date information on current CO2 emissions in any future reports that discuss historic CO2 trends.

The SUN DAY Campaign also questioned whether the increased CO2 emissions thus far recorded for 2018 are primarily weather-driven as EIA has suggested or whether they are the consequence of the Trump Administration’s heavy emphasis on expanded fossil fuel development and use as well as its efforts to reverse and undo existing or proposed public policies implemented during the Obama and earlier administrations that were designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

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November 2, 2018

Linda Capuano, Administrator
U.S. Energy Information Administration
Room 2H-027
1000 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20585

Dear Ms. Capuano:

We are writing to express our strong concerns with two reports/news releases issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in recent weeks.

On September 25, EIA issued a report/news release titled “U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions decreased 0.9% in 2017.” On October 29, EIA issued a second, similar report/news release titled “Carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. power sector have declined 28% since 2005.”

Both give the impression that the U.S. is making consistent and significant progress in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the energy sector. However, this is both incorrect and misleading.

We are not challenging the factual accuracy of either report. Rather, we believe they are out-of-date and fail to reflect the latest trends in U.S. CO2 emissions, as documented by EIA itself.

The two reports in question present data only through the end of last year. However more recent data provided by EIA in its “Monthly Energy Review” paint a very different picture and suggest a reasonable cause for alarm.

The latest “Monthly Energy Review” (released on October 26 with data through July 31, 2018) reveals that U.S. CO2 emissions from energy consumption during the first seven months of 2018 are actually 2.78% higher than a year ago. Those from natural gas alone zoomed upward by 12.0%. Moreover, CO2 emissions during each of the first seven months of 2018 exceeded the levels reported for the corresponding months in 2017.

Further, the higher (i.e., 2.8%) actual level of CO2 emissions exceeds the 2.2% increase recently forecast by EIA in its latest “Short-Term Energy Outlook” (issued October 10) for calendar year 2018. Perhaps the final 12-month actual figure will more closely match EIA’s projection but the trend-line to date is not encouraging.

In the latter report, EIA anticipates lower CO2 emissions in 2019 and notes that the recent rise in CO2 emissions “largely reflects higher natural gas consumption because of a colder winter and warmer summer than in 2017.” This may be true – at least in part.

However, we strongly suspect the increase in domestic CO2 emissions is also attributable to the current Administration’s heavy emphasis on expanded fossil fuel development and use, and its efforts to reverse and undo existing or proposed public policies designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. We further believe that the decrease in CO2 emissions between 2005 and 2017 largely reflects efforts by the Obama Administration to address the threat of climate change; therefore, undoing those earlier efforts is resulting in an increase in emissions that is likely to continue and potentially worsen.

Regardless of the underlying causes, we believe it is essential that the media, policy-makers, businesses, and members of the general public have an up-to-date and accurate understanding of the situation.

This is underscored by the recent findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which stressed how little time is left to stop the growth of, and dramatically reduce, greenhouse gas emissions if we have any hope of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees C. It is further reinforced by the costly hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters the U.S. has recently experienced and which were almost certainly caused, at least in part, by rising temperatures.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned EIA reports give a false sense of security by implying that the U.S. is moving in the right direction vis-a-vis its CO2 emissions. That certainly has been the tone of the news stories we have seen recently that were based on the EIA releases.

We know that the most recent data (e.g., “Monthly Energy Review” and “Short-Term Energy Outlook”) are publicly available and accessible to anyone wishing to look for it. However, the reality is that most media — and certainly most members of the general public — are either not aware of its existence or will not make an effort to find it.

Therefore, we offer two recommendations.

First, EIA should issue a separate release or study that focuses on the most recent CO2 emissions data (i.e. for calendar 2018) and notes that, for the first time in more than a dozen years, U.S. CO2 emissions are again on the rise.

Second, even if this is a departure from the usual format used for EIA’s regular reports, EIA should include up-to-date information on current CO2 emissions data in any release that discusses historic CO2 trends so that reporters and others have a more accurate context for any articles they prepare.

We appreciate your consideration of these comments.

Sincerely,

/s/

Ken Bossong, Executive Director
SUN DAY Campaign

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