The nation’s carbon dioxide emissions headed back to pre-pandemic levels after years of small but steady declines, powered by freight and coal.

By Ariel Gans, Inside Climate News

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions boomeranged toward pre-pandemic levels in 2021, a turnaround from more than a decade of downward trends, and freight transportation and coal are major culprits, according to a report released Monday by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm.

America’s greenhouse gas emissions grew 6.2 percent last year as the American economy largely recovered from pandemic lockdowns, the Rhodium report estimated. In comparison, between 2005 and 2019, U.S. emissions fell nearly 1 percent annually, on average, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The uptick occurred largely due to a 17 percent jump in coal-fired power generation, the first annual increase in coal generation since 2014, and a rapid resurgence of road transportation. Coal’s comeback was driven largely by a hike in natural gas prices, which made coal power more economically attractive.

coal emissions

While last year’s emissions remained 5 percent below 2019 levels, the increase marks a reversal of early pandemic reductions.

The findings echo end-of-year emissions numbers from Carbon Monitor and the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Carbon Monitor, an academic group that tracks emissions, concluded U.S. emissions ramped up 7 percent through the end of October. A year-end report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasted a 7 percent increase in energy-related CO2 emissions…

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