Earth Day Special: The Most And Least Green States

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April 22 is Earth Day. This year, its theme is “A Billion Acts of Green.” The idea behind the 2011 program is to demonstrate that millions of small acts can make a profound difference in the environment. Whether that is true or not, the Earth Day Network, which organizes the event through more than 22,000 partners in nearly 200 countries, has decided to adopt it as its 2011 theme.

Before 1970, the idea of environmental responsibility was a foreign concept  to most Americans. Similarly, American companies could pollute without regard to consequences.  It was before the Environmental Protection Agency, and before the agency’s Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

In an effort to bring these issues into the spotlight, Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in the Spring of 1970. That December, responding to public outcry, Congress formed the EPA.

Since that time, pollution has been  reduced significantly.  Companies are prosecuted for violations, states and local governments attempt to control and limit waste, and organizations bring class action suits against entities for breaking environmental laws.

Although the environment has improved, issues still exist. Federal bodies like the EPA help enforce laws but state efforts often have a far greater effect on local communities.

Last year, 24/7 Wall St. analyzed the environmental issues facing the 50 states.  In observance of Earth Day, we’ve updated our rankings to reflect the most recent data.

Pollution is as much a state problem as a national one. Ohio contributes much more to regional and global pollution than Vermont, which ranks well. Unlike Ohio, Vermont does not have to regulate hundreds of factories, which pollute the water and air. Similarly, Ohio does not have great tracts of land where it can install vast numbers of wind farms. Texas, which ranks first in wind energy, does.  Texas, however, has the largest number of coal-fired power plants.  As a result, the state burns more coal and produces more carbon dioxide than any other state. No two states have the same problems. This means that solutions must be informed by both local and national concerns.

24/7 Wall St. examined energy consumption, pollution problems and state energy policies with the help of industry experts, government databases and research reports.  Data comprising 49 separate metrics came from a number of sources. Of the 49 metrics chosen, rankings for all of them were reflected in 27 final separate categories.  The sources included The Pew Center on Global Climate ChangeThe Energy Information Administration, The Department of Energy, The Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Renewable Energy World, American Council For an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), The Environmental Protection AgencyThe American Lung Association, Environment America’s Research and Policy Center, The Political Economy Research Institute, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  Although other state factors like industry type and scale, GDP, population and natural resources were considered, they did not impact the rankings.

We used only recent information available for all states – issued in 2009 and 2010 — and collected thousands of data points to reach our rankings of the most and least “green” states.  For each metric, the higher the rank, the better the score, the lower the rank, the worst. The rankings, in other words, are balanced so that one or two grades from the study cannot overwhelm two or three other grades.

This is the 24/7 Wall St. ranking of the ten greenest and the ten least green states.