While the US Congress has made no real effort to address global warming, the world's largest economic power is surprisingly getting greener anyway. The decline in greenhouse gas emissions in the US can be attributed to a variety of factors including the weak economy, certain moves made by the Obama administration to limit pollution from power plants, state requirements that utilities obtain power from renewable sources, and government investment in energy efficiency technology. But the biggest contributor to declining greenhouse gas emissions, economists say, is the very cheap price for natural gas over the last few years.
The reason natural gas prices have declined is the development of a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short, in which sand, chemicals and water are pumped under pressure into the ground to crack shale rock under which natural gas reservoirs are trapped. The controversial practice has caused environmental concerns about contamination of ground water sources, but has also fueled a massive energy boom in the US that has driven natural gas prices to their lowest levels in over ten years.
These low natural gas prices have prompted utility companies to close down coal-powered power plants, which produce twice as much pollution as natural gas plants. The numbers are unmistakable, as the US has reduced its total carbon emissions from power-producing companies by nearly 10 percent since 2007, according to recent data from the US Energy Information Administration. And this push toward a greener economy has all been done without the heavily debated cap and trade law considered by Congress in 2009.
In contrast, Europe has not seen a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector in the last five years, even though the region does have cap and trade rules in place. Of course, when taking into account all greenhouse gas output, rather than just the energy sector, Europe has seen emissions fall by 9 percent between 2005 and 2010 while the US saw total emissions drop by just 5 percent.