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Republican Rep. Morgan Griffith, who represents the 9th Congressional District in Southwest Virginia suffering from the decline of coal mining, recently derided Democratic resolutions to end greenhouse emissions in 10 years.
The non-binding, identical, non-binding measures, called the "Green New Deal," were introduced Feb. 7 in the House by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and in the Senate by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. Eighty Democrats have co-sponsored the resolutions, including six announced presidential candidates for 2020.
The resolutions call for federal mobilization to curb climate change and protect the environment. They also broadly support Democratic aspirations to increase hourly wages, strengthen labor unions and make higher education accessible "to all the people of the United States." The measures don’t lay out specific programs to achieve the goals or revenues to finance them, other than saying the changes will pay for themselves.
Griffith, in a Feb. 11 newsletter to constituents, said the environmental reforms were impractical, industry-killing and unnecessary.
"Our country has succeeded in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in previous years," he wrote. "We did it with improved technology that increased energy efficiency and brought down the costs of cleaner fuel sources. This is the blueprint for a future that holds both cleaner air and water and greater prosperity."
We fact-checked Griffith’s claim that the U.S. has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions.
Kevin Baird, Griffith’s communications director, told us the statement was based on data published by the Environmental Protection Agency in its "Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gases and Sinks, 1990-2017." It’s the latest edition of an annual report, released April 12, 2018.
The report shows U.S. greenhouse emissions dropped from a peak 7,371 metric tons in 2007 to 6,472 metric tons in 2017 - the last year available. That’s an 11.8 percent decrease over the span, or an average 1.1 percent yearly decrease.
The fall was not steady, however. During four years, emissions went up, during seven years, they went down. Much attention has been focused on the final three years of data. Emissions dropped by 2 percent in both 2015 and 2016, but only three-tenths of 1 percent in 2017. In other words, the rate of decrease was slowing.
But there’s a problem: The EPA report Griffith sites is out of date. More recent research indicates greenhouse emissions rose in 2018. The research focuses on carbon dioxide discharges, which account for about 80 percent of greenhouse emissions.
A report issued In January 2019 by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, estimated carbon emissions rose by 3.4 percent in in 2018 - the first increase in four years. That puts carbon emissions at about the same they were in the mid-1990s.
The latest records from the Energy Information Administration, a data-collecting unit of the federal Energy Department, show carbon emissions for the first 10 months of 2018 were 3.2 percent higher than discharges during the first 10 months of 2017
Energy analysts generally attribute the slow overall decline in emissions from 2007 to 2017 to energy conservation caused by the Great Recession and its recovery, and the shift in electricity production from coal to natural gas, wind and solar power.
On the other hand, Rhodium says the 2018 increase was largely caused by a booming economy that led to more emissions from factories, planes and trucks. Another factor was weather: A cold winter in parts of the country led to an increase in oil and gas consumption for heat.
The EIA expects things to slow this year, predicting an 0.2 increase in carbon emissions. Rhodium said it doesn’t "expect a repeat of 2018 this coming year."
Let’s to return to Griffith. It should be noted that some of the decrease in emissions that he lauds might not have happened if he had succeeded in his goal of reviving the coal industry.
"Our country has succeeded in reducing greenhouse emissions in previous years," Griffith said in arguing against a Democratic resolution for an all-out effort to end the emissions in a decade.
Griffith cites an EPA report released early last year showing emissions dropped 11.8 percent between 2007 and 2017. It went down three straight years between 2015 and 2017, although by declining amounts.
But Griffith ignores more current research that alters his picture. The Rhodium Group estimates carbon emissions - the source of most greenhouse gases - increased by 3.4 percent last year. EIA data shows it went up 3.2 during the first 10 months of 2018, compared to the first 10 months of 2017.
So you can argue this either way. During the last dozen years, emissions went up five times and down seven. On one hand, they're down 10 percent over the last 12 years; on the other, emissions are at the same level they were in the mid-1990s.
We rate the statement one Half True.
U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, "No Green Light for the Green New Deal," Feb. 11, 2019.
The New York Times, "Liberal Democrats Formally Call for a ‘Green New Deal,’" Feb. 7, 2019.
Environmental Protection Agency, "Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gases and Sinks, 1990-2017."
BP, Statistical Review of World Energy, accessed Feb. 21, 2019.
Energy Information Administration, "Carbon Dioxide Emissions From Energy Consumption by Source," accessed Feb. 21, 2019.
Rhodium Group, "Preliminary U.S. Emission Estimates for 2018," July 8, 2019.
The Washington Post, "What’s Actually in the ‘Green New Deal from Democrats? " Feb. 11, 2019.
PolitiFact, "Are Greenhouse emissions down under President Trump, as EPA says?" June 18, 2018.
PolitiFact, "Seven Questions about the Green New Deal," Feb. 12, 2019.
NPR, "U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Are Once Again on the Rise," Jan. 8, 2019.
The New York Times, "U.S. Carbon Emissions Surged in 2018 Even as Coal Plants Closed," Jan. 8, 2018.
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