Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions related to coal consumption in the United States declined to 231 million metric tons in 2015, a record decrease, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. More than 60% of the decline can be attributed to 10 states, including Arkansas. Texas had the largest decrease in the emissions.
The majority of the decline was in the electric power sector, in which coal-fired electricity generation was offset by increased natural gas-fired electricity generation, according to the EIA. “In 2015, a decline in coal emissions occurred in nearly every state.” The emissions only rose in four states that year. Three states and the District of Columbia produced no or almost zero coal emissions in 2014 and 2015.
“Total energy-related CO2 emissions fell in 2016 and are projected to fall in 2017 and rise in 2018,” according to the EIA. Nearly 90% of coal consumption in the United States is in the electric power sector. Of the 10 states that had the largest decline in coal emissions, the amount of coal consumption related to the electric power sector ranged between 98% in Texas and 76% in Pennsylvania.
In 2015, coal-fired plants reduced generation as a response to competition from lower-priced natural gas. Also, 15 gigawatts of coal-fired generating capacity was retired in 2015, accounting for about two-thirds of all retiring capacity that year, according to the EIA. “Many of those retirement decisions were likely affected by compliance deadlines associated with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule, which had an initial compliance date of April 2015.” Coal-fired electricity generation declined 15% in 2015 or by 228 billion kilowatt-hours, while natural gas rose 20%, by 204 billion kilowatt-hours.
The first year the use of natural gas generators exceeded coal-fired generators was in 2015. It also was the first year natural gas emissions exceeded coal emissions. Coal emissions fell by 231 million metric tons to 1,467 million metric tons, while natural gas-related emission rose 43 million metric tons to 1,482 million metric tons. “Because natural gas is less carbon intensive than coal, about 80% more energy was provided by the natural gas (28.2 quadrillion British thermal units) consumed in 2015, compared with coal (15.5 quadrillion British thermal units).