Energy data provides climate fight ammo

“Projected carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels, which declined by 6.1 percent in 2009, increase by 1.5 percent and 1.7 percent in 2010 and 2011, respectively, as economic recovery contributes to an increase in energy consumption,” predicts EIA, the statistical forecasting arm of the Energy Department.

The upward trend could add new weight to arguments about the need for legislation, which faces uncertain Senate prospects, to reduce emissions from the U.S., which is the world's second-largest source of heat-trapping gases behind China. But the energy-related emissions in 2011 will nonetheless be lower than the 1999-2008 period.

The same report forecasts oil price averages over the next two years that are far higher than 2009 levels. Oil will average almost $80 per barrel in 2010 and $83.50 per barrel in 2011, EIA predicts, compared to the 2009 average of almost $62 per barrel. Oil closed at $80.79 per barrel in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange Tuesday.

Regular gasoline prices are projected to pass $3 per gallon at some point this spring and summer.

Back in the summer of 2008, gasoline around $4 per gallon and oil prices that briefly hit a record high of $147 per barrel helped touch off a ferocious election-season debate over domestic production, ultimately forcing Democrats to allow longstanding bans on U.S. offshore drilling to lapse that September.

Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) hope to craft a compromise climate change and energy bill that would impose U.S. emissions limits but also expand offshore drilling.

Something to watch: How much rising prices – if that indeed comes to pass – will help boost pro-drilling arguments this time around.