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PITTSBURGH (AP) — In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.
Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.
Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said the shift away from coal is reason for “cautious optimism” about potential ways to deal with climate change. He said it demonstrates that “ultimately people follow their wallets” on global warming.
“There’s a very clear lesson here. What it shows is that if you make a cleaner energy source cheaper, you will displace dirtier sources,” said Roger Pielke Jr., a climate expert at the University of Colorado.
WASHINGTON — Fitch Ratings has retained the U.S. at its top ‘AAA‘ credit rating but also left the outlook negative, citing the failure of Congress and the Obama administration to forge an agreement on reducing the budget deficit.
Fitch says that uncertainty over federal tax and spending policies related to the so-called fiscal cliff “weighs on the near-term economic outlook” and raises the prospect of another recession.
A massive budget showdown could begin after the elections in November and stretch well into next year, despite the threat of the fiscal cliff – $500 billion in impending tax increases and spending cuts.
Fitch also says the burden of government debt on the economy will continue to rise and could hurt growth if an agreement isn’t reached on the deficit.