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U.S. Sees Historic Drop in Fossil Fuel Use In 2020

Colorado State Land Board
Americans' fossil fuel consumption dropped to its lowest point in three decades, partly because fewer people were driving and needing gas for their vehicles.

Americans’ fossil fuel consumption dropped 9% last year to its lowest point in three decades. That’s according to a new report by the Energy Information Administration, which said the dip was also the nation’s largest recorded decrease in fossil fuel use.

A major driver of that was less driving: there was a 15% decline in energy consumption from transportation, largely because of the pandemic.

University of Colorado-Boulder economics professor Daniel Kaffine said transportation has steadily made up more and more of America’s total fossil fuel consumption. Now, it’s a leader in that category.

For 2021, though, Kaffine suspects a rebound in transportation as people take family trips and head back to the office. However, after that peak, he said it’s hard to say what the longer-term effects of telecommuting will be.

“There’s a lot of really interesting questions there about how much is temporary and how much of it will have some persistence,” he said.

Beyond where we’re driving, Kaffine said an even longer-term trend to watch is what we’re driving.

“A substantial share of new cars are electric, so that has some pretty important implications in terms of reduced petroleum consumption, but potentially more natural gas as we’re needing to supply electricity to fuel those cars,” he said.

It wasn’t just that we used less gas last year, though. Americans used 19% less coal last year, bringing it to the lowest level since federal agencies started tracking the data in 1949. Federal projections show that coal use will rebound this year, but is expected to continue a longer-term national decline.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

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