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Carbon Pollution From U.S. Power Plants Hits 27-Year Low

The government says heat-trapping pollution from power plants hit a 27-year low in April due in part to a long-term shift from coal to natural gas.
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The government says heat-trapping pollution from U.S. power plants hit a 27-year low in April. U.S. Energy Information Administration economist Allen McFarland said a big factor was the long-term shift from coal to cleaner and cheaper natural gas. Outside experts also credit more renewable fuel use and energy efficiency.

According to figures released Wednesday, electric power plants spewed 141 million tons of carbon dioxide in April, the lowest for any month since April 1988. The power plants are responsible for about one-third of the country's heat-trapping emissions. Federal analysts predict that this year the amount of electricity from natural gas will increase 3 percent compared to last year while the power from coal will go down 10 percent.

Carbon dioxide — from the burning of coal, oil and gas — is the chief greenhouse gas responsible for man-made global warming. "While good news for the environment, we certainly would not want to assume that this trend will continue and that we can simply relax," said John Reilly, co-director of MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

The news comes as President Barack Obama seeks to clamp down on power plant emissions. On Monday, Obama introduced sweeping new regulations requiring states to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030. He said the world may not be able to reverse global warming unless aggressive action is taken to stop it.

Related: Rising Number of Local Governments Pledge to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On Wednesday, 16 states banded together to ask the administration to put its greenhouse gas limits for power plants on hold while they sue to stop them. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and 15 other attorneys general submitted their request in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency. They're asking the EPA to respond by Friday. "These regulations, if allowed to proceed, will do serious harm to West Virginia and the U.S. economy, and that is why we are taking quick action to bring this process to a halt," Morrisey said in a statement.

Related: Study Says Carbon Dioxide Cutbacks Could Save 3,500 Lives a Year

Republicans in Congress are also working on legislation to block implementation of the new emissions standards.