U.S. Emissions Rise 4 Percent as Drivers Log a Record Number of Miles

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The U.S.’s carbon dioxide emissions increased by 4 percent during the first quarter. This is due to record-breaking driving in the United States in the first three months.

U.S. motorists logged 753 billion miles on the road through March, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That’s the highest first-quarter tally since the federal authorities began keeping track in 1970.

The extra miles highlighted the continued recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and came in the face of a run-up in gasoline and diesel prices. In climate terms, the added miles helped drive the ongoing rally in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, which rebounded by 6.2 percent in 2021 following a pandemic-induced plunge in 2020.

Carbon Monitor, an academic emissions tracking initiative, estimates U.S. CO2 emissions rose by 52 million tons in the first three months of 2022 compared to the same time last year, bringing total American emissions for the quarter to 1.3 billion tons.

” Just because prices are rising on everything doesn’t mean consumers have changed their behavior yet,” John Larsen, a partner with the Rhodium Group, an economic consultancy firm that tracks emissions, said. “Either people don’t feel as price sensitive to gas prices or they haven’t reached that wall .”

Analysts stated that one of the biggest questions for the future is whether high prices will cause changes in consumer behavior. This could lead to Americans driving less or switching to electric vehicles.

It is too early to predict if such a shift is imminent. Record numbers of Americans are purchasing EVs. First-quarter EV sales rose by 76 percent year over year, according to Cox Automotive. The increase was especially notable given a 15 percent slump in overall vehicle sales during the quarter.


EV sales still represent a small percentage of the U.S. automobile market. Americans nearly bought as many Ford F-series pickup trucks (140,000) as EVs (173,000). Total first-quarter SUV sales, meanwhile, were almost 1.8 million while truck sales were around 649,000.

Emissions from ground transportation were up by almost 30 million tons, accounting for more than half of the increase in U.S. CO2 output. However, emissions from ground transportation are not the only sector in the economy that is increasing.

Carbon Monitor estimated that industrial emissions rose by 4 percent or 9.6 million tonnes. Americans are also flying more. U.S. Energy Information Administration figures show that aircraft utilization was up 40 percent in the first quarter. That resulted in an increase in emissions from domestic flights of 8 million tons, an increase of roughly 25 percent compared to the same time last year. International flights were responsible for an additional 4 million tons in CO2.

It is unclear if these sectors will continue to grow and increase emissions. Russia invaded Ukraine in February. The economic impact of the war is still not fully recorded in economic statistics. The war has seen an increase in energy prices.

” There is a lot uncertainty about economic growth and the feedback into oil prices,” said Daniel Klein of S&P Global Commodity Insights, who tracks energy trends for S&P Global Commodity Insights. It is difficult to know right now because of all the moving parts .”

The power sector, which is the traditional engine of American decarbonization efforts, was the only area where emissions declined. CO2 output there was essentially flat, falling 0.3 percent compared to the first three months of 2021.

The power sector has seen a wave in new renewables emerge in the past year. Nonhydro renewable generation increased by 22 percent year over year, while coal generation fell by 5 percent, according to EIA. Natural gas generation grew 6 percent to offset some of these emission gains.

The power sector has consistently delivered the biggest reduction in U.S. emissions over the last decade, with falling coal use accounting for much of the drop in American CO2 output. Klein stated that the growth of new electricity demand is outpacing growth of clean energy supply, which moderates the emission reductions.

” “It’s difficult to see the trajectory for the transition being altered in any significant way without breakthroughs in technology or policy,” he stated.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from

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