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EIA reports 5.8% year-to-year decline in US GHG emissions in 2009; 4.3% drop in transportation sector although vehicle miles travelled increased

VMT rose slightly in 2009 while emissions from gasoline and diesel fuel declined, a result EIA attributes as a likely result of more efficient vehicles and increased consumption of biofuels. Click to enlarge.

Total US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were 6,576 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) in 2009, a decrease of 5.8% from the 2008 level, according to Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2009, a report released by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Since 1990, US GHG emissions have grown at an average annual rate of 0.4%. The results for 2009 represent the largest%age decline in total US GHG emissions since 1990, the starting year for EIA’s data on total GHG emissions. EIA Administrator Richard Newell attributed the decline to the economic downturn, combined with an ongoing trend toward a less energy-intensive economy and a decrease in the carbon-intensity of the energy supply.

Total estimated US GHG emissions in 2009 consisted of 5,446.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (82.8% of total emissions); 730.9 MMTCO2e of methane (11.1% of total emissions); 219.6 MMTCO2e of nitrous oxide (3.3% of total emissions); and 178.2 MMTCO2e of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) (2.7% of total emissions).

Emissions of energy-related carbon dioxide decreased by 7.1% in 2009, having risen at an average annual rate of 0.8% per year from 1990 to 2008. Among the factors that influenced the emissions decrease was a decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 2.6%. The energy intensity of the US economy, measured as energy consumed per dollar of GDP (Energy/GDP), fell by 2.2% in 2009.

Year-to-year declines in energy intensity are relatively common, EIA noted. There was also a decline in the carbon dioxide intensity of US energy supply (CO2 per unit of energy) in 2009, caused primarily by a drop in the price of natural gas relative to coal that led to more natural gas consumed for the generation of electricity. Also contributing was an increase in renewable energy consumption, led by wind and hydropower.

Methane emissions increased by 0.9%, while nitrous oxide emissions fell by 1.7% in 2009. Based on partial data constituting about 77% of the category, combined emissions of HFCs, PFCs and SF6 increased by 4.9%.

Transportation. The electric power sector accounts for 40% of all energy-related CO2 emissions. The transportation sector is the second-largest source, at 34% of the total. Those emissions are principally from the combustion of motor gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the US transportation sector in 2009 were an estimated 1,854.5 million metric tons—81 million metric tons lower than in 2008 (-4.3%) but still 267 million metric tons higher than in 1990 (+16.8%). The transportation sector has led all US end-use sectors in emissions of carbon dioxide since 1999.

Petroleum combustion is by far the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the transportation sector. Increases in the consumption of ethanol fuel in recent years have mitigated the growth in transportation sector emissions. (Reported emissions from energy inputs to ethanol production plants are accounted for in the industrial sector.)

Emissions from gasoline and diesel fuel combustion in the transportation sector generally have paralleled total vehicle miles traveled since 1990. In 2009, however, vehicles miles traveled rose slightly while combined emissions from gasoline and diesel fuel declined—likely as a result of more efficient vehicles and increased consumption of biofuels, EIA said.

The transportation sector has dominated the growth in US carbon dioxide emissions since 1990, accounting for 69% of the total increase in US energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.



Stan Peterson

The EPA can still coerce Americans to fill out their CO2 emissions forms. But they haven't yet figured out how to get the mighty Oak and Pine to file the forms for how much CO2 that they absorb.

The peer-reviewed scientific papers from Princeton University have never been contradicted, even as they are ignored. North America not only emits less than ZERO CO2 net, we absorb and sequester a considerable portion of Eurasia's CO2 emissions, too.

North America bio-sequesters 1.5 times what South America and the Amazon Rain forest bio-sequester.

Nick Lyons

@Stan: Interesting claims. Your post would be more useful if you provided links to info which provides support for same.


We do not always see the true picture when we are concerned.

The truth is that Canada-USA-Australia are still (by far) the worse per capita polluters of the planet.

We pollute about five to eight times as much (per capita) as the rest of the world but we think we are doing great.

We are very funny or misinformed or birdbrained.


There are the rationalizations like not everyone in South America and Africa drive or not everyone in India or China have cars, so the per capital numbers are misleading.

If the developing world lived like the developed world we would need three planets for the resources. Since we only have one planet, we have to find a way. This is why we have large brains, it is time that we use them.


There is one primary reason canada and the us eat so much energy.. we make so much stuff.. Heavy industry specialy concrete eats gargantuan amounts of energy... also even with biofuel production we feed a bloody heck of alot of people and that also eats huge amounts of energy.

Now that so called developing and third world nations are growing thier heavy industries thier energy consuption is also climbing rapidly.


Why do most EU countries have per capita pollution less than half ours? Even Germany with all their very high speed highways and large cars have not learned to pollute as much as we do. The same can be said of Japan, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France etc.


Mainly 600 coal fired power plants. China brings more of them online every month but they have more than 1 billion people, so the per capita numbers are lower. As more of them get the modern conveniences more pollution per person will occur.


Science magazine published an article in 1998 with data that suggests the North American continent is a carbon sink. S. Fan, M. Gloor, J. Mahlman, S. Pacala, J. Sarmiento, T. Takahashi and P. Tans noted: Prevailing winds, which blow in an easterly direction over the continent, contain more CO2 just after they blow off the Pacific Ocean than they do after they exit the continent over the Atlantic.

The problem is that the Fan et al (1998) study was pretty conclusively rebutted by Schmiel et al (2000); and is no longer considered to be valid. The general point that re-forestation is a carbon sink is a good one, but no conceivable amount of reforestation is going to be able to soak up all industrial emissions


Keep in mind the recent study demonstrating CO2 absorption in waters recently traversed by ice bergs.

Oceans make fairly versatile carbon sinks - regulating the rate of absorption via a huge number of variables.


Well yes and no. To be more accurate that study said: In a finding that has global implications for climate research, scientists have discovered that when icebergs cool and dilute the seas through which they pass for days, they also raise chlorophyll levels in the water that may in turn increase carbon dioxide absorption in the Southern Ocean.

Words like "may" and "indicates" were used, which in itself is not bad it's just the way scientists talk.

My real concern is the study only surveyed the area ten days after the iceberg had drifted away. That gives the chlorophyll levels enough time to increase but what about later when the stuff that feds on phytoplankton has had enough time to increase?


About 40% of all ocean productivity results from diatomic phytoplankton. These species consistently demonstrate increased growth and productivity in CO2 enriched atmosphere - much as do terrestrial plants. One may assume that increased phytoplankton productivity in oceans is a benefit to species heretofore in search of new food sources. Considering growth in human population and need to feed that population - increases in the oceanic food chain would appear beneficial.


Why do we still feel justified to consume more energy and food and pollute increasingly more year after year.

Do we really want to become fat overweight diabetic cyclops with crippled knees driving Hummer I gas guzzlers?

Slimmer people eating a lot less and using much more efficient systems and machines, consuming less energy and emitting less pollution could be a more acceptable solution.


Harvey, I can only agree about overweight people. To that end - perhaps a rise in food prices (Big Macs!) will drive people to eat more healthful diets (being cheaper.) This would be a benefit to societies trying to limit soaring healthcare costs!

Um, not sure where you get the cyclops part - fathead morph??


ReelSS...many industries have managed to convince people to consume more and more of everything to become better looking healthier Americans. That ongoing fallacy is having disastrous long term negative effects. That type of misconception is so wildly spread that we end up with 200+ lbs 8-year old children and 200-lbs people driving 6000+ lbs vehicles to work or to go shopping.

Burgers have become 3/4-lbs triple-burgers and somebody will manage to sell 1.5-lbs quad-burgers soon. Where will or quest for biggest take us? It used to be that my father is stronger than yours but now it is my father is bigger, fattier and requires a bigger seat than yours.

Premier Harper of Canada is making an interesting current election promise to fight obesity. A yearly family tax credit of $1000 for all children under 18 to pay for gymnasium fees. Similar tax credits ($500/year) would apply to all adults. This could cost tax payers up to $5B/year but would be a boom for gyms and athletic clubs. In the long run, the national health care cost could go down by more than $5B/year and the net gain in national productivity could add another $5B/year. One catch remains to be overrun, those generous tax credits would be delayed until such time as Canada's/Harper's current deficits have been erased and turned into yearly surpluses. That is not expected to happen before 2016/2020+. Strong politics.... that may never materialize?

Stan Peterson


Thank You for your post, saving me the need to defend my post, alone.

However,the scale of the Princeton University studies done over several years, is much more extensive than Dr. Smiel's "paper" analysis which used lots of theoretical assumptions, and very little real data. I don't think Dr. Smiels "theoretical paper effort" was anywhere near as accurate or extensive. Even he admits as much.

At the same time, I doubt very many of the Eco-warmists have ever even heard of these scientific studies. It is almost as if the prominent Warmists media, went out of their way to ignore and purposely kept their followers in the dark, thus effectively suppressing contradicting data.

I hope this encourages many a reader here, mostly in the Warmist camp, to at least investigate and search out and read the Princeton papers. It will allow them to open their minds, and make up their own minds.

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