Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions last year were the lowest in the United States since 1994 at 5.3 billion metric tons due to the increasing reliance on lower-priced natural gas to fuel power generation, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). With the exception of 2010, carbon emissions have declined every year since 2007.

The largest drop in emissions came from coal, which is used almost exclusively for power generation. During 2012, particularly in the spring and early summer, low natural gas prices led to stepped-up competition between gas- and coal-fired power generators, which reduced demand for coal generation and increased demand for gas-fired generation. Natural gas is a less carbon-intensive fuel.

Other factors contributing to the lower emissions included decreased demand for transportation fuels and mild winter temperatures that reduced the need for gas to heat households. The warm winter months during the first quarter of 2012 more than offset a slight increase in cooling degree days during the summer months.

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