updated 5/20/2009 5:25:56 PM ET 2009-05-20T21:25:56

There is a positive note to the country's economic woes and last summer's $4-per-gallon gasoline: The nation in 2008 had a record decline in the amount of climate-changing carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

The government reported Wednesday that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions declined by 2.8 percent last year compared to 2007, the largest annual drop since the government began regular reporting of greenhouse gas pollution.

The department's Energy Information Administration attributed the decline to a 2.2 percent drop in energy consumption, largely because of high gasoline and diesel prices last summer and the sharp economic decline in the last half of the year.

The government figures were released as members of a House committee continued a weeklong struggle to craft a sweeping climate bill that would impose limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act, which is before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, calls for cutting greenhouse emissions by 17 percent over the next 11 years and by 83 percent by midcentury.

The committee's Democrats have fended off repeated attempts by Republicans to kill the bill, or at least have it saddled with provisions that would make it difficult to implement. GOP lawmakers argue that the bill would result in sharp increases in energy costs that would harm consumers and the economy in general.

Democrats have sought to fashion the bill in ways that mitigate sharp consumer energy cost increases and their impact on energy-intensive sectors of the economy such as electricity production and industries that could face disadvantages against foreign competitors.

A number of unsuccessful GOP amendments would have halted the bill's emission reduction mandate if it caused increases in electricity rates, unemployment or gasoline prices.

The debate was expected to go late into the night, as lawmakers offered dozens of amendments to the 946-page bill. Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has said he wants the committee to advance the legislation by week's end.

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