Fact Check: President Donald Trump Claims U.S. Carbon Emissions Lowest in 35 Years

President Donald Trump speaks during the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Claim: President Donald Trump said at the presidential debate on Thursday that carbon emissions in the U.S. are the lowest in 35 years.

Verdict: True. Thanks to clean burning natural gas, power emissions in the United States are the lowest they have been since 1985, or 35 years.

A Real Clear Energy report from 2018 confirms that fact, using data from the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA):

More gas for electricity has been our most effective weapon at combating climate change. Gas has negligible local pollutants and 50 percent less CO2 emissions than coal and 30 percent less than oil. Accounting for over 80 percent of our greenhouse gases, CO2 is the energy-emission most blamed for warming the planet. And reducing CO2 in power is essential: the sector accounts for almost 35 percent of our total emissions.

Gas power plants are mushrooming all over the country, with almost a 20 percent gas capacity gain of 90,000 megawatts from 2017–2020 alone. Bolstered by rising efficiency, the more that we have turned to natural gas, the more our CO2 emissions have plummeted. Our power emissions are now the lowest they have been since 1985. As the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has shown, electricity is unique in that it is the only sector where emissions are actually declining, thanks mostly to natural gas.

Indeed, the climate group Carbon Brief reports that more natural gas use is the primary driver for declining CO2 emissions in the U.S. power sector. Gas has cut 50 percent more emissions since 2005 than wind and solar power combined. Natural gas is the reason why President Obama’s now pulled back Clean Power Plan has become completely irrelevant: We are set to surpass his reduction goals a decade early. Natural gas is the only fossil fuel that actually increases in demand under modeled scenarios that keep the rise in the global average temperature to below the critical 2°C threshold.

As for former Vice President Joe Biden’s pledge to end all fossil fuels by 2050, the EIA predicts natural gas will provide over 60 percent of energy through 2050.

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