The recession and a mild winter resulted in a 3.1 percent drop in carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants in 2008, according to EPA data analyzed by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit interest group.

The one-year dip is a departure from recent trends that show a steady rise of about 0.9 percent a year since 2003, and a 4.5 percent rise over the last decade. But before popping the champaign bottles, U.S. data point to higher CO2 and methane concentrations for the year.

The group’s analysis shows that six states showed increases in power plant emissions of one million tons or more from 2007 to 2008: Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington.

EIP was established in 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorney Eric Schaeffer to advocate for more effective enforcement of environmental laws. More information on the new report is available at

A separate report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the two most important greenhouse gases emitted as a result of human activities – CO2 and methane – increased in concentrations in 2008.

NOAA Scientist Peter Tans, with the Earth System Research Laboratory in
Boulder, Co., in a prepared statement said, “Think of the atmosphere and oceans taking in greenhouse gases as a bathtub filling with more water than the drain can empty, and the drain is very slow. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the point where they match levels that can be absorbed by Earth’s ecosystems.”

Elaborating in a phone interview, Tans carried the bathtub metaphor a step further: In it sits a large sponge, but one that is so tight that it takes up the CO2 only very slowly. That sponge, he said, represents the planet’s oceans, and the CO2 they capture, given the slowness of the drain, cannot keep up with the mounting emissions and concentrations.