The most underreported recent environmental story has been the dramatic decline in energy-related carbon emissions — nearly back to mid-1990s levels, and falling. Maybe it's because that story just doesn't fit the left's mantra that traditional energy sources are destroying the environment. The U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) June energy report says that energy-related carbon dioxide fell to 5,473 million metric tons (MMT) in 2011. That's down from a high of 6,020 MMT in 2007, and only a little above 1995's level of 5,314 MMT.

Better yet, emissions in the first quarter of 2012 fell at an even faster rate — down 7.5% from the first quarter of 2011 and 8.5% from the same time in 2010. If the rest of 2012 follows its first-quarter trend, we may see total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions drop to early-1990s levels. That's a very positive environmental story, and yet you probably haven't heard a word about it. Especially from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)...

However, emissions began to fall after 2007, when Barack Obama was only a second-year senator — so he doesn't get the credit. The most likely explanation for the decline is the shale gas revolution, made possible by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Increasingly, power plants are turning to natural gas because it has become abundant, and therefore cheap. And though technology is improving our ability to reduce emissions from coal usage, natural gas is still a much cleaner source...

That task is made more difficult when refiners have to rely on upgrading existing plants to meet new federal regulations rather than building new ones, leading several northeast refineries to shut down recently. The reason for the lack of new refineries is the EPA refused to grant any new building permits. The good news, according to the Associated Press, is that the EPA has just granted "final permit approval" to three Native American tribes in North Dakota to build a new refinery — the first permit in the lower 48 states in 41 years. It's a start, but only a start.

So energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are way down, and it's mostly because of private sector innovations in energy production. It's a huge success story; just don't expect the EPA, or the media, to be telling it.

Merrill Matthews, Investor's Business Daily
July 17, 2012