From USA Today

Mainly because power plants have switched from coal to natural gas, climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions hit an unexpected 20-year low earlier this year, the Associated Press reports.

AP cites a “little-noticed technical report” released earlier this month by the U.S. Energy Department. It stated that CO2 emissions from January through April hit 1992 levels, a “surprising turnaround,” AP writes.

AP says it contacted environmental experts, scientists and utility companies “and learned that virtually everyone believes the shift could have major long-term implications for U.S. energy policy.”

Although conservation, the sluggish economy and wider use of renewable energy contributed to the decline, low-priced natural gas was the prime factor, the Energy Information Agency found. The speed of the electric-power industry’s switch from coal to gas surprised just about everyone.

Despite the good news here, coal use and CO2 emissions are rising worldwide. And natural gas still emits carbon dioxide, though CO2 emissions from natural gas in the United States were down in the first quarter.

“Natural gas is not a long-term solution to the CO2 problem,” Roger Pielke Jr., a climate expert at the University of Colorado, told AP.

The portion of the nation’s electricity that comes from coal has fallen to its lowest level since World War II.

Today in Louisville, Ky., natural gas was on the agenda at a major coal conference: “Natural Gas: Is the Threat to Coal Sustainable?”