Lower carbon dioxide emissions good news for Louisiana's economy: Editorial

08 21, 2012 by The Times-Picayune

The report that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have dropped to a 20-year low is a surprising and welcome development for the environment -- and it comes with good news for Louisiana's economy as well.

As the Associated Press reported, a U.S. Energy Department report said energy related CO2 emissions for the first four months of 2012 are down to about 1992 levels. The report indicated that energy emissions, mostly from coal-powered power plants, make up 98 percent of total CO2 emissions in the nation.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

Energy conservation efforts, a lagging economy and the growth of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power have contributed to the reduction of CO2 emissions. But officials said the biggest factor is the abundance of low-cost natural gas from relatively new massive finds, including the large Haynesville shale, which includes parts of north Louisiana. That has prompted many power plants across the nation to rapidly switch from coal to gas as their primary fuel.

The government said half of the nation's electricity was generated from coal as recently as 2005. But that percentage fell to 34 percent this March, the lowest level recorded since the government began keeping records 40 years ago.

That's a remarkable speed on the shift from coal to gas. Considering the country's massive gas reserves, which are expected to keep the cost of natural gas low for years, the change could have large implications for the nation's long-term energy outlook.

That would be good news for our state, which is one of the leading natural gas producers. Louisiana's natural gas output grew by 129 percent between 2008 and 2011, and many experts expect production to continue rising. That should keep the price of gas lower than the amount of coal needed to produce a comparable amount of energy. That means the shift to gas as an energy source is only likely to accelerate in our country.

It's unclear whether that will be the case in other parts of the world. Although the International Energy Agency said the U.S. has cut CO2 emissions more than any other country, coal use continues to grow in China and other nations with booming economies. As a result, worldwide CO2 emissions are still rising.

But Roger Pielke Jr., a climate expert at the University of Colorado, said the U.S. experience offers "a very clear lesson." He said it shows that, "if you make a cleaner energy source cheaper, you will displace dirtier sources."

The environment, and Louisiana's economy, is reaping the benefits.