March 27, 2008

Connecticut’s Fossil Fuel Use In Decline

Warmer weather has helped, and the price of gasoline and heating oil has made people think twice about how much energy they are consuming.

And although Connecticut and the rest of New England are not on track to meet their own goals for reducing the emissions that contribute to global warming, a study released by two environmental groups Wednesday sees a glimmer of hope.

The report suggests there are signs of a turnaround in the battle to confront climate change: Fossil fuel use, a prime source of greenhouse gases, declined from 2004 to 2005. Preliminary numbers suggest the decline accelerated in 2006.

"The message is two-fold," said Roger Smith of Clean Water Action, which along with Environment Connecticut produced the report. "Despite our commitments on global warming, emissions continue to rise year to year."

Connecticut and the rest of New England have been producing more greenhouse gases since 2001, even though the region's governors agreed to cut the emissions.

But, Smith continued, if we combine the more recent trend with new initiatives, "we might actually be able to bring emissions down and meet our goals."

The biggest hurdle in cutting emissions remains cars.

"Transportation shows a steady, unrelenting climb -- that's where we have the biggest challenge ahead of us," said Chris Phelps, a spokesman for Environment Connecticut. "We need to be able to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B in Connecticut without producing as much emissions."

The study recommends that states adopt mandatory emissions caps from all sectors of the economy; promote the use of cleaner cars; invest more in public transportation; do more to encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy; and adopt "green" building codes and better land-use planning.

The state legislature is considering a bill that contains many of those measures.

The state already has joined a regional program to limit emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, from power plants. The program caps emissions and lets companies buy and sell the right to emit CO. The state will use money raised by auctioning off CO "credits" for energy efficiency programs and to help residents offset higher energy costs.

Eric Brown of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association called the global warming bill "unnecessary and ill-advised." The bill would raise energy prices, hurt the state's economy and have a negligible impact on global warming, he said. The state should instead work to implement a 2005 climate plan and push Congress to develop a national program.

The emissions study includes the latest numbers from the federal government on fuel use, agriculture and waste disposal, covering a variety of emissions associated with global warming.

Nationwide, emissions fell by 1.5 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A warmer winter led to decreased use of heating fuels, and a cooler summer reduced demand for electricity.

Higher fuel prices and increased use of natural gas and renewable energy sources in the electric power sector also made a dent in the numbers.