GARDI SUGDUP, Panama - Heat-trapping pollution released into the atmosphere from rising exports of U.S. gasoline and diesel dwarfs the cuts made from fuel efficiency standards and other efforts to reduce global warming in the United States, according to a new Associated Press investigation.
Under President Obama, the United States has reduced more carbon pollution from energy than any other nation, about 475 million tons between 2008 and 2013, according to U.S. Energy Department data. Less than one-fifth of that amount came from burning less gasoline and diesel fuel.
Yet the U.S. is sending more fuel than ever to other parts of the world, where efforts to address resulting pollution are just getting underway, if advancing at all.
1B tons of pollution
U.S. exports of gasoline and diesel released roughly 1 billion tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere elsewhere during the same period, according to AP's analysis.
This fossil fuel trade has helped President Obama meet political goals to curb carbon dioxide at home, by taking it off America's pollution balance sheet. But that does not necessarily help the planet.
Despite efforts by the U.S. and others, pollution linked to global warming is still rising worldwide.
In Panama, imports of diesel and gasoline from the U.S. have nearly quadrupled since 2008.
Panama is the largest recipient of diesel fuel dirtier and more carbon-laden than would be allowed in the U.S., in part because the fuel is used in cars and trucks that do not have the same efficiency standards and are not regularly inspected and maintained, the investigation found.
Panama's requirement that drivers test emissions, including for carbon dioxide, are almost completely ignored.
"It's a false image," said Onel Masardule of the Indigenous People's Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative, a Peru-based environmental group. "In reality, the U.S is still contaminating."
Obama has overseen a domestic boom in oil and natural gas and ordered the biggest increases in fuel economy in history.
That's helped the U.S. reduce oil imports, create jobs, boost exports, and shrink the trade deficit.
But for global warming, fuel exports mean that, at the very least, the administration is making a smaller dent than it claims.
"This is their hidden success story that they would like to keep hidden," said Kevin Book, a Washington-based energy analyst.
"It has done a lot to improve our balance of trade standing, but it is not the most climate-friendly way to do it. There is no way to avoid that there is a bigger emissions impact when you have more to combust," Book said.