As EPA Launches War on Emissions, U.S. Plays Catch-up With Europe on Renewables

The United States is behind the curve when it comes to the percentage of renewable energy resources on its national grid. And with domestic oil and natural gas production increasing, low-carbon solutions may fall even further by the wayside.

Jun 3, 2014 at 9:18AM

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The United States is behind the curve when it comes to the percentage of renewable energy resources on its national grid. And with domestic oil and natural gas production increasing, low-carbon solutions may fall even further by the wayside.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says enough energy was produced from domestic resources last year to meet 84 percent of total U.S. energy demand.

Natural gas, it said, was the largest domestic energy resource for the third year running, followed by other fossil fuels like coal and crude oil. All told, fossil fuels accounted for 82 percent of the energy consumed in the United States last year.

Meanwhile, renewable energy met 10 percent of U.S. energy needs, followed by nuclear power, which accounted for 8 percent.

In December, 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama called on the federal government to "lead by example" by using renewable energy resources to supply 20 percent of its needs by 2020, to the extent that it's "extent economically feasible and technically practicable."

But not every state or municipal government across the country toes the federal line. Only about half of U.S. states have renewable energy mandates.

By comparison, the European Commission said in its first-ever renewable energy progress report in March that most member states are already more than halfway to meeting their 2020 goal of getting 20 percent of their energy needs from renewable energy resources. European emissions, in part as a result, have started to decline.

When the International Energy Agency (IEA) looked at the issue, it found the global energy supply isn't getting any cleaner, despite calls for more action from leading economic powers.

IEA -- an independent, Paris-based group that works with 29 member governments to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy -- said coal still dominates the global energy sector.

On an absolute basis, IEA said coal power grew faster than its renewable and nuclear counterparts between 2010 and 2012 and half of the new coal plants built in 2011 used outdated technology.

"This is a major reason why the amount of CO2 emitted for each unit of energy supplied has fallen by less than 1 percent since 1990," IEA said.

On June 2, at the unveiling of the White House's "Clean Power Plan," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it wants to cut those emissions.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business lobbying group, said the EPA regulations would come with "immense" costs and put up roadblocks to "America's job creators."

And maybe that's part of the issue. Though climate concerns are increasing, the road to a low-carbon economy isn't getting any easier, at least as far as the short-term horizon is concerned.

IEA says things are hardly any better when they were four years ago and, although Obama's stated energy policy calls for "all-of-the-above" solutions, the EPA's Gina McCarthy also says there's "no one-size-fits-all solution."

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Written by Daniel J. Graeber at Oilprice.com.

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