Report: AZ's 61% increase in CO2 is the nation's worst
By Tony Davis
Carbon dioxide emissions in Arizona skyrocketed faster than in any other state since 1990, a new report says.
While one commissioner said the report's numbers seemed a bit high, the commissioners agreed with the report's author, Environment Arizona, that the findings underscore the need for this state to do more to promote alternatives to fossil fuels that generate C02 emissions.
Emissions in Arizona of CO2, the biggest contributor to atmospheric greenhouse gases, jumped 61 percent from 1990 to 2007, the new report said. That compared to a national increase of 19 percent, said the report. Arizona's total emissions ranked 22nd-highest in the nation in 2007.
"I don't think you can ignore that number," said corporation commissioner Kris Mayes of the 61 percent figure.
In the Southwest, temperatures have climbed faster than the national average in recent decades, partly due to global warming and partly due to the "heat island effect" caused by the proliferation of hard surfaces such as roads and parking lots. That has led to more frequent and severe wildfires, invasions of non-native buffelgrass and an extended drought that has lowered water levels in major reservoirs, researchers have said.
While Arizona's rapid growth — fastest or second-fastest in the nation most of those years — lies behind much of the C02 emission increase, it's not the only cause, observers said.
Nationally, since 2004, 17 states reduced greenhouse-gas emissions, the report found.
Paul Newman, a state corporation commissioner from Bisbee, gave several explanations for Arizona's meteoric C02 emission rise:
• Arizona has been behind on energy efficiency. The state ranked 29th among the 50 states in a national "scorecard" released this fall by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. It evaluates state governments' commitment to strong energy-efficiency policies.
• Arizona is very car-dependent.
• Arizona exports 25% of its electricity but gets "credit" for its pollution because the power is generated in this state.
A positive note from the new report, said Mayes: It shows Arizona's per-person emissions of carbon dioxide ranks 36th among all states and declined 6 percent from 1990 to 2007.
"Of course, we need absolute declines as well to make a dent in climate change. And we should be particularly concerned about that because the Southwest is really in the cross hairs of ongoing and expected changes in climate. But it is a little bit heartening that at least our per-capita emissions did not increase," added Julia Cole, a University of Arizona geosciences professor.
The positive numbers demonstrate that Arizona has a balanced energy portfolio, said Mayes, referring to the breakdown of coal, natural gas and other sources.
But Tucson Electric Power is an exception, Mayes said. It gets 74 percent of its power from coal, compared with 38 percent and 25 percent, respectively, for the Phoenix-based Arizona Public Service and the Salt River Project.
But natural gas, although it produces far less C02 than coal, doesn't get a free pass for greenhouse-gas emissions from the Environment Arizona report.
C02 emissions from Arizona's natural gas plants jumped 229 percent, accounting for more than a third of the state's total C02 emission increase from 1990 to 2007, the report found.
To reduce electricity use, the Corporation Commission is about to propose a rule requiring utilities to become 20 percent more energy-efficient by 2020, Mayes said. That would require slashing energy use 20 percent, compared with what would be expected.
"We will work with the Corporation Commission staff to develop a standard that works for the environment and our customers," said Salkowski.
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