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New analysis reveals implications of plummeting usage of coal in the U.S.: ‘The big question is how fast emissions will fall as a result’

Coal produced 17% of Americans’ energy last year, according to the report — lower than either nuclear or renewable energy and the lowest level since 1969.

Coal produced 17% of Americans’ energy last year, according to the report — lower than either nuclear or renewable energy and the lowest level since 1969.

Photo Credit: iStock

A new report from research firm Rhodium Group found that the United States’ planet-overheating gas emissions dropped by 1.9% in 2023, largely thanks to the phaseout of coal burning.

Coal produced 17% of Americans’ energy last year, according to the report — lower than either nuclear or renewable energy and the lowest level since 1969. More than a dozen coal plants were closed throughout the year, accounting for 98% of U.S. capacity retirements in 2023.

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While that is all good news, a 1.9% year-over-year drop in planet-overheating production is still far behind the climate goals that the U.S. previously claimed to have, which include reducing emissions to half their 2005 levels by 2030. Even as coal plants are closed down, the Biden administration continues to green-light new oil and gas projects that counter the progress made by renewable energy projects.

It remains to be seen whether clean energy will continue to grow at an exponential enough rate to begin replacing the destructive dirty energy companies that continue to ply their trade. The Rhodium Group report seemed somewhat optimistic that they could.

“In the coming years, we’d expect to start seeing surges in renewable energy deployment and surges in the number of electric vehicles on the road,” said Ben King, one of the authors of the Rhodium Group report. “The big question is how fast emissions will fall as a result.”

In 2023, however, emissions rose in the transportation sector, according to the report, by 1.6% — even as more Americans continued to adopt electric vehicles. Emissions in the industrial sector also rose by 1.2%.

More concerning was the rise in natural gas usage (aka mostly methane), which hit record levels for the United States in 2023. While phasing out coal and retiring coal-burning plants is a good thing for the planet, it does no good if that capacity is replaced by burning methane, which is incredibly potent when it comes to contributing to the overheating of our planet. Scientists warn that methane has 80 times the heat-trapping effects of carbon dioxide in the 20 years after its release.

To meet its stated climate goals, the U.S. must significantly curtail its natural gas usage in coming years and replace it with clean, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

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