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Carbon emissions jumped 3.5% in '96

A strong economy, higher natural gas prices and a severe winter contributed to a sharp increase in heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases in 1996, an Energy Department analysis concluded Monday.

The report said that carbon emissions from cars, factories and power plants increased 3.55 percent last year after growing 8 percent over the previous six-year period.The sharp increase could put more pressure on the administration to devise a strategy for new controls on the pollutants, mainly carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.

The United States and other nations hope to negotiate a treaty in December for curtailing the greenhouse emissions, which are blamed by many scientists for global warm-ing.

Carbon emissions accounted for 84 percent of greenhouse pollution last year. All emissions linked to a possible global warming - including carbon, methane and other pollutants - rose 3.4 percent in 1996, the report said.

The Energy Information Administration called the sharp rise in heat-trapping gases, principally carbon dioxide, "the highest rate of increase in years."

Despite government efforts to foster energy conservation, the greenhouse pollution levels rose faster than the overall economy, which grew 2.4 percent, and energy consumption, which rose 3.4 percent.

The agency attributed the increase in part to a robust economy and higher natural gas prices that prompted a switch to dirtier forms of energy such as coal.

Another factor cited was unusually severe weather in some parts of the country that resulted in a 6.3 percent increase in residential heating, often from burning oil or natural gas.

President Clinton has said the United States must take a leadership role and be prepared to commit to "realistic and binding goals" for reducing greenhouse gases. An international conference set for December in Kyoto, Japan, will set emission ceilings.

The White House has yet to announce details of the proposal it intends to take to Japan. While calling for binding caps on carbon emissions, the administration has not said how deep the reductions should be or suggested a timetable.

Details of the U.S. strategy, including emission reduction targets, may be announced this week as U.S. officials meet with other nations in Bonn, Germany, to prepare for the Kyoto conference.