By Bill Dawson

IndustryEmissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, fell in Texas from 2004 to 2007, even before the recession of 2008-09 suppressed economic activity and CO2 emissions.

That was one of the conclusions in an environmental group’s analysis of what it called the latest data from the U.S. Department of Energy.

In terms of volume, Texas had the second-largest CO2 reduction among the states from 2004-07, while New York had the largest, according to the report, released Thursday by Environment America and its state affiliates.

Texas remained the state with the greatest CO2 emissions at the end of the study period, but had recorded a per capita decline in those emissions of 8 percent and an absolute decline of 2 percent since 2004.

The report authors considered emissions from the use of three fossil fuels – oil, coal and natural gas – in their calculations. They attributed Texas’ falling emissions to a couple of factors – mainly, reduced industrial use of natural gas, but also the rapid growth of the state’s wind-power industry:

In Texas, the emission decline since 2004 has largely been the result of declining emissions from the industrial sector – more specifically, a reduction in industrial natural gas consumption. However, the state has also succeeded in holding the line on growth of emissions from its electricity sector. On a per capita basis, emissions from electric generators in Texas fell by 4 percent between 2004 and 2007 – the result of reduced reliance on coal and an increase in the share of power produced by natural gas and wind. Since 2005, the amount of power produced by renewables (other than hydroelectric power) in Texas has more than doubled. By 2007, Texas was getting 2.5 percent of its power from these clean sources of energy compared with just 0.5 percent in 1997. Texas – which is now America’s number one producer of wind power – has been able to use its growing wind power portfolio to reduce the need for additional fossil fuel generation, keeping emission growth from the electricity sector at bay.

Texas was one of 17 states that reduced their CO2 emissions from 2004-07, according to the Environment America report.

Texas’ top ranking for total emissions in 2007 meant it had held that position since 1990, the authors said. The state ranked considerably lower – in 14th place – for per capita emissions, however.

Texas was one of 20 states to record per capita declines in CO2 since 1990. The state had a 17 percent reduction from 1990-2007, compared to a national drop of 2 percent.

Along with that per capita decline, however, Texas’ population grew significantly since 1990. In absolute terms, the state’s emissions of CO2 grew by 16 percent from 1990-2007. In that last year, they totaled 675 million metric tons (MMT) – 11 percent of the national total, according to the report.

Scientists, policy-makers and advocates predictably differ on the complex and contentious question of how best to stabilize a global climate being altered by emissions of CO2 and other atmosphere-warming greenhouse gases.

President Barack Obama, for example, has called for reducing U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 percent below those levels by 2050.

The 80 percent goal is based on a judgement by many scientists and by bodies such as the European Union that greenhouse emissions should be cut by that much to avoid “dangerous” climate disruption projected to occur with global average warming of more than 2 degrees C, or 3.6 degrees F, above pre-industrial levels.

Judith Clarkson, a research scientist and one of several individuals quoted in a release about the Environment America report by Environment Texas, its Austin-based affiliate, alluded to the stabilization issue:

“While Texas has experienced a slight decline in greenhouse gas emissions over the last five years, the amount falls far short of that required to mitigate the threat of global warming,” she said. “Texas needs to aggressively increase its efforts to promote energy conservation and renewable energy production, and reduce fossil fuel consumption by prohibiting the construction of new coal-fired power plants.”

[Disclosure: Clarkson was an editor and contributing author of The Impact of Global Warming in Texas, 2nd edition,which will be published in 2010 by The University of Texas Press. The book was commissioned by the Houston Advanced Research Center, which publishes Texas Climate News.]

Windmills and cottonAnother person quoted in the group’s release was U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who said he “welcome(d) the news that climate-changing pollution in Texas fell by 2 percent” while some other states recorded emissions increases. Doggett called for building on Texas’ “modest improvement” with more investment in renewable energy sources and the passage of an energy-climate bill by Congress.

Doggett’s reference to Texas’ continuing status as the “number one producer of greenhouse gas pollution” was a reminder that environmentalists, alternative energy producers and others have used that fact as a longstanding basis for advocating policy changes aimed at cutting those emissions.

Although such proposals generally failed in the 2009 session of the Texas Legislature, one major change that did occur was in 1999 – a state law that ordered utilities to produce more electricity from renewable sources. It is widely credited with fueling the rapid rise of Texas’ wind-power industry.

The authors of the Environment America report cited that industry’s growth as a national model, noting that the share of Texas electricity produced by renewable sources had jumped above the 2.5 percent recorded in 2007:

Texas’ focus on wind power will continue to pay dividends in emission reductions for years to come. In the first three months of 2009, non-hydro renewables accounted for nearly 6 percent of the electricity produced in Texas. This additional electricity from zero-emission wind power will offset the need to produce more electricity from coal and natural gas-fired power plants. Encouraging continued growth in wind power production nationally should help to reduce growth in electric sector emissions for decades into the future.

Beyond mentioning the decreased use of natural gas in industrial plants’ operations as the major factor behind Texas’ declining CO2 emissions from 2004-07, the environmental group’s report did not address that subject in detail.

A separate report issued in September by an Oklahoma City consulting firm, however, suggested that the reduced industrial use of natural gas cited by Environment America may not be a transient phenomenon.

In the report, economists at C. H. Guernsey & Company concluded that a continuing decline in consumption of natural gas at industrial plants since January 2008 “is partly associated with a long-term trend in energy efficiency and structural changes to the economy and is not solely related to the effects of the recession,” according to an announcement by the firm.

While the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that U.S. industries used 14 percent less natural gas since the start of 2008, the Guernsey economists
calculated that there would have been a decline of more than 19 percent if the price of natural gas had not dropped by almost 50 percent in that period.

report issued on Tuesday by the EIA itself contained this national forecast for CO2 emissions in 2009 and beyond:

Projected carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels fall by an estimated 5.6 percent in 2009. Coal leads the drop in 2009 CO2 emissions, falling by slightly more than 10 percent. Changes in energy consumption in the industrial sector, a result of the weak economy, and changes in electricity generation sources are the primary reasons for the decline in CO2 emissions. Projected improvements in the economy contribute to an expected 1.5-percent increase in CO2 emissions in 2010.

Even if Texas’ CO2 emissions buck that projected national trend and continue to decline, statistics in the Environment America report suggested that the state is at little risk of relinquishing its place as the No. 1 emitter any time soon.

That status is attributed to a variety of factors, including Texas’ production of a large share of the nation’s oil, natural gas and petrochemicals; a nation-leading consumption of coal to produce electricity; the second-biggest state population; heavy reliance on private vehicles; long travel distances; and a climate that prompts heavy use of air conditioning.

The states whose total CO2 emissions were second- through fifth-greatest in 2007 recorded numbers far behind Texas’ 675 MMT for that year:

  • California, 400 MMT (up 2 percent)
  • Pennsylvania, 277 MMT (down 0.3 percent)
  • Ohio, 270 MMT (up 2 percent)
  • Florida, 258 MMT (down 0.1 percent)

The top state in per capita emissions in 2007 was Wyoming at 124 metric tons (MT) per capita. Texas earned its 14th-place ranking on that list with per capita emissions of 28 MT. Three adjoining states had greater per capita emissions – Louisiana (No. 5 with 45 MT), Oklahoma (No. 10 with 30 MT) and New Mexico (No. 11 with almost 30 MT). The U.S. average in 2007 was slightly below 20 MT per capita.

Oil use was the major source of Texas’ CO2 emissions in 2007, with 332 MMT (an increase of almost 2 percent since 2004). Use of natural gas in the state accounted for 190 MMT (down more than 6 percent) and use of coal for 152 MMT (a 1 percent drop).

Photo credits: Industrial plant on the Houston Ship Channel ©, Texas windmills amid cotton ©