America’s Energy Revolution Hits a Historic Milepost

The U.S. passed another historic marker in its energy revolution this year. In February, U.S. transportation emitted more carbon dioxide than the fossil-fuel-heavy power sector for the first time since 1978. Overall, the U.S. has seen a 25 percent drop in carbon-dioxide emissions since 2008, the Department of Energy said, a function of the rise of natural gas and smarter energy use.

Why this should happen now is a function of several different market forces. First, low gasoline prices have encouraged Americans to drive more, increasing CO2 pollution from tailpipes. Second, natural gas has eclipsed coal as the leading fuel for electricity producers. That development, reinforced by Environmental Protection Agency regulation, has led to a historic bust for U.S. coal, which is a much more carbon-intensive fuel than natural gas.

Yes, gasoline is cheap. Yes, natural gas is killing coal. Yes, renewable energy is ramping up. These are the defining events of energy markets in recent years. But it leaves us with the question, now that the U.S. has a new, or at least emerging, energy mix, how did the old one get that way to begin with? The larger arc to this story goes back more than 50 years, when the oil embargo began a grand rethinking of energy infrastructure. (by Eric Roston, Bloomberg)

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