Total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose nearly 7% from 2020 to 2021 as economic activity bounced back following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday, with transportation emissions accounting for the largest portion of total GHG emissions in 2021.
The EPA released preliminary data on GHG emissions in the United States showing that carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector increased 14% from 2020 to 2021. The annual report accounts for all human-made sources in the U.S., including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride. The report also includes the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through forests, vegetation and soils.
Since 1990, when the EPA began preparing these reports, transportation emissions have grown more than 20% but have declined since 2005. The EPA cited urban sprawl, population and economic growth and low fuel prices during the early part of the study period for the rise in transportation emissions. Better average fuel economy for new vehicles since 2005 has “slowed the rate of increase of CO2 emissions,” the report stated, but automobiles and other gasoline-powered vehicles still accounted for 53% of transportation emissions in 2021.
“Every day the pollution from gasoline and diesel cars and trucks is harming our health, with the heaviest burdens falling on those communities closest to major transportation hubs like ports or highways, often disproportionately low income communities and communities of color,” said Don Anair, research director and deputy director of the Clean Transportation Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in an email.
Light-duty trucks, which include pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, vans and minivans, are the largest contributors to carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2021, representing 37% of the total. Passenger vehicles accounted for nearly 21%.
“This report’s findings underscore the urgent need for EPA to reduce pollution from light, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles,” said Peter Zalzal, senior counsel and associate vice president for clean air strategies at the Environmental Defense Fund, in an email. “Thankfully, the agency is considering new performance-based pollution standards for these vehicles right now.”
The draft report is available for public comment until March 17, and the final report will be published April 15.