Colorado Lagging Badly in Curbing CO2 Emissions

Colorado had the fifth largest increase in carbon dioxide emissions — the most important greenhouse gas — of all states in the U.S. between 1990 and 2004, according to a report released this month by the  U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

In the U.S. in general, according to a the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report on national GHG trends also issued this month, greenhouse gas emissions increased only 16 percent over the same period.

The two figures are not directly comparable, because the EPA report looked at all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide. But they do indicate that Colorado is far behind the curve in curbing its contribution to global warming.In 2004, according to the PIRG report, Colorado emitted 91.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, up from 65.8 mmt in 1990. In absolute terms, Colorado’s contribution to global warming is far lower than that of larger states like California (354.8 mmt) or New York (212.8 mmt). But those two states increased their contribution to global warming only eight percent and three percent respectively over the last 15 years.

Colorado increased its emissions from coal-fired power plants by 18 percent over the period (5.5 mmt); from natural gas-fired power plants by 547 percent (3.9 mmt); and from transportation by 51 percent (9.6 mmt).

These figures would indicate that the most savings in CO2 emissions could be generated by curbing vehicle use, which grew dramatically in the state over the period. The percentage increase in vehicle miles traveled in Colorado over this period was 69 percent, larger than any state except Florida and Nevada.

In absolute terms, Colorado’s leading sources of carbon dioxide pollution were: coal, 35.8 mmt; vehicles, 17.4 mmt; and natural gas, 4.6 mmt.

In late February, the governors of five western states — Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington — announced an agreement to jointly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The states will set emissions targets within six months. Then by August 2008 they have agreed to establish a market mechanism — like a cap-and-trade system — to help meet the target.

Colorado is so far absent from this coalition.

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Dan Whipple

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