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The Bush administration today lost one of its main talking points for defending its approach of relying on voluntary measures to address climate change. The government’s energy statistics agency is reporting that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased 1.4 percent in 2007 — meaning the slight decrease recorded the prior year was a mere blip on the nation’s current pathway toward increasing its fossil fuel burden on the atmosphere.

Last year, President Bush touted a 1.3 percent decrease in U.S. carbon emissions in 2006 — a year when the economy grew by 2.9 percent — as proof that “a strong and growing economy can deliver both a better life for its people and a cleaner environment at the same time.” When asked recently about the administration’s record on climate change, the White House Council on Environmental Quality sent over a brief summary that cited the 2006 emissions drop as proof of “real progress.”

But in 2007, that seeming progress was more than erased, as the United States released 106.7 million more metric tons of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases than it did the previous year, raising the total to a record 7,282.4 million metric tons, according to the annual inventory released today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Greenhouse gases did decline twice during the Bush administration, in 2001 — associated with the economic slowdown that year — and in 2006, the second-warmest year on record in the United States, with a corresponding decline in energy use to heat homes. But the overall trend was up during President Bush’s tenure, with emissions rising nearly 3 percent from 2000 to 2007.

From 1990, the base year used by the countries that have agreed to the Kyoto protocol to limit greenhouse gases, U.S. emissions have increased nearly 1 percent per year for a total increase of 16.7 percent. In contrast, the latest United Nations figures show the European Community has reduced its emissions 2.2 percent from 1990 to 2006.

Just as weather was a leading factor in the 2006 drop in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, Mother Nature also caused the increase in 2007. EIA’s energy analysts note that a 14.2 decline in hydroelectricity caused power companies to switch to burning more coal and natural gas. Although the EIA report does not spell it out, the reason for the swap to more carbon-intensive fuels was severe drought; Georgia Power alone last November saw its hydropower drop 51 percent and had to purchase expensive fossil fuel to replace the lost water power.

Thus climate itself, rather than policy, appears to be the factor shaping the United States’ profile as a contributor to climate change.

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