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Study: Regulations – not gas, economy driving emissions reduction

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A new report says natural gas and a slow economy have been given too much credit for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide.

The Center for Climate Strategies, a Washington, D.C., based climate action and policy organization, released a study Nov. 15 that concludes recent declines in U.S. carbon emissions are primarily the product of regulations. The study specifically identifies eight policies at the federal, state and local level that account for an estimated 46 percent of emissions reductions projected through 2020.

Other, smaller policies and price changes, the study states, are responsible for another 27 percent of the impact.

"Our study shows that actions from the city to federal level are working; these programs are already lowering greenhouse gas emissions and helping better protect our country from climate change-related impacts," said Tom Peterson, CCS president and CEO and report co-author. "These are not far-off solutions still being tested in a lab or on a computer. These are practical approaches that not only help fight climate change but also create new markets and investments, protect our national energy security, and make communities safer and more sustainable."

According to a news release from the organization, the Energy Information Administration said greenhouse gas output by 2020 is 23 percent lower than the same estimates made in 2005. The number is "69 percent closer to President Obama's stated climate goals."

"Although the economic downturn was the single largest reduction driver, energy and transportation policies collectively account for a bigger share," the organization writes. "Those policies include state renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency requirements, car mileage rules, and other actions that affect national energy production and use."

The study points out that fuel switching-driven reduction in carbon emissions is relatively small.

"Fuel switching between coal and gas in the electricity sector explains approximately six percent of the decline in the 2030 emissions forecast," the report states. "Increased renewable electricity generation from market–driven actions, as well as state renewable portfolio standards contribute an additional seven percent to the 2030 decline."

A large part of the emissions reductions is the result of cuts to transportation emissions via increased fuel efficiency standards.

"These results show that meaningful progress is being made through actions that are powerful, productive and practical. It also shows that there is more where this came from, and that we can take important new steps with confidence," said Peterson.

The report calls for further action, including demand-side management for heat and power, increasing public transit and transportation efficiency and improving forest conservation and restoration.

The full report is available online.