Economics » Environmental Protection and Externalities » The Economics of Pollution

The Economics of Pollution

The Economics of Pollution

From 1970 to 2012, the U.S. population increased by one-third and the size of the U.S. economy more than doubled. Since the 1970s, however, the United States, using a variety of anti-pollution policies, has made genuine progress against a number of pollutants. This table lists the change in carbon dioxide emissions by users of energy (from residential to industrial) according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The table shows that emissions of certain key air pollutants declined substantially from 2007 to 2012; they dropped 730 million metric tons (MMT) a year—a 12% reduction. This seems to indicate that progress has been made in the United States in reducing overall carbon dioxide emissions, which cause greenhouse gases.

U.S. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions from Fossil Fuels Consumed 2007–2012, Million Metric Tons (MMT) per Year(Source: EIA Monthly Energy Review)

 Primary Fossil FuelsPurchased Electric PowerTotal Primary Fossil Fuels
End-use SectorCoalPetroleumNatural Gas  
Residential(0)(14)(31)(134)(179)
Commercial(2)(2)(7)(126)(136)
Industrial(40)(62)31(118)(191)
Transportation0(228)5(1)(224)
Power(464)(36)(122)
Change 2007–2012(508)(342)121(378)(730)

Despite the gradual reduction in emissions from fossil fuels, many important environmental issues remain. Along with the still high levels of air and water pollution, other issues include hazardous waste disposal, destruction of wetlands and other wildlife habitats, and the impact on human health from pollution.

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