Earth Day Special: The Most And Least Green States

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.

The Greenest States

10. Colorado
> Population: 5,024,748 (22nd)
> GDP: $252.6 Billion (19th)
> Toxic Waste: 41,532 Tons (19th)
> Carbon Footprint: 98.1 Million Metric Tons (27th)
> Alternative Energy: 10.0% (14th)

Colorado benefits in ranking from above-average pollution scores, scoring sixth best for birth-defect inducing toxins and carcinogenic chemicals released into waterways. Colorado also ranks 12th in particle pollution. The “Centennial State” has very good policy scores, ranking seventh for energy-saving targets, according to ACEEE’s assesment.  More than 6% of Colorado’s total energy output is from alternative resources, the eighth best rating in the country

9. Oregon
> Population: 3,825,657 (27th)
> GDP: $165.6 Billion (26th)
> Toxic Waste: 61,876 Tons (23rd)
> Carbon Footprint: 43.5 Million Metric Tons (10th)
> Alternative Energy: 63.4% (3rd)

Oregon ranks in the middle third for all of our pollution metrics, including 29th in EPA toxic waste violations and 33rd in toxic exposure, according to the RSEI index.  Oregon does exceptionally well both in policy and alternative energy. In the Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s list of state energy-saving programs, Oregon has the second-most, behind only California. The state also produces the second-most hydroelectric energy, and the eighth most non-hydroelectric alternative energy, mostly from state wind farms.

8. Idaho
> Population: 1,545,801 (39th)
> GDP: $54 Billion (42nd)
> Toxic Waste: 4,808 Tons (9th)
> Carbon Footprint: 16.2 Million Metric Tons (4th)
> Alternative Energy: 84.5% (1st)

Idaho generates the greatest relative amount of renewable energy in the country, with 84.5% of all energy coming from alternative sources.  “The Gem State” also ranks fifth for producing geothermal energy thanks to its unique terrain, and sixth for conventional hydroelectric power, thanks to the Snake River Plain and the state’s smaller rivers.  Furthermore, the state has the fourth lowest rate of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.  This is largely the result of the state’s extensive use of renewable energy.

7. Montana
> Population: 974,989 (44th)
> GDP: $35 Billion (48th)
> Toxic Waste: 37,758 Tons (17th)
> Carbon Footprint: 37.7 Million Metric Tons (9th)
> Alternative Energy: 36.5% (6th)

Montana is unofficially nicknamed “Big Sky Country.”  It is understandable that residents would be proud of their air, as it is tied for the lowest rate of ozone particulates in the nation, according to the American Lung Association.  The state also ranks well in many other categories. It ranks seventh for total energy used, however, this is largely the result of the state’s relatively low population density, the third lowest in the country.

6. South Dakota
> Population: 812,383 (46th)
> GDP: $38.3 Billion (46th)
> Toxic Waste: 1,214 Tons (2nd)
> Carbon Footprint: 13.7 Million Metric Tons (3rd)
> Alternative Energy: 44.3% (5th)

South Dakota has the fifth-lowest population in the country and, along with that, its pollution is relatively low. The home of Mount Rushmore has only had 14 EPA violations since 2000, far and away the fewest in the nation. It also generated roughly 1,200 tons of hazardous waste last year, which is the second-lowest amount in the country, behind only Hawaii. South Dakota only produced 13.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the third-lowest in the country. South Dakota is above average – but not stellar – in terms of public policy, but it does rank fourth in the state utility alternative energy savings with a target of 10% by 2015.

5. Hawaii
> Population: 1,295,178 (42nd)
> GDP: $66.4 Billion (38th)
> Toxic Waste: 987 Tons (1st)
> Carbon Footprint: 24.1 Million Metric Tons (8th)
> Alternative Energy: 7.6% (19th)

Since nearly 25% of Hawaii’s gross state product comes from tourism, the state is quite concerned about the environment. Hawaii produces the least amount of toxic waste and received the highest score for two air quality measurements: the EPA’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators toxic exposure rank and the American Lung Association’s ozone pollution index. The state also ranks sixth in energy-saving programs and policies.

4. Nevada
> Population: 2,643,085 (35th)
> GDP: $126.5 Billion (31st)
> Toxic Waste: 11,143 Tons (10th)
> Carbon Footprint: 41.6 Million Metric Tons (12th)
> Alternative Energy: 9.4% (16th)

Nevada has the lowest level of water pollution in the country because the generally arid state has very little fresh water to dump toxins into. The “Silver State” scores well in alternative energy production, with the second-highest production of solar photovoltaic and geothermal energy. Despite its low pollution levels and alternative energy scores, the state is only above average in policy initiatives.

3. New Hampshire
> Population: 1,324,575 (40th)
> GDP: $59.4 Billion (41st)
> Toxic Waste: 4,538 Tons (8th)
> Carbon Footprint: 19 Million Metric Tons (6th)
> Alternative Energy: 12.3% (11th)

New Hampshire has extremely low pollution.  The state has the fourth lowest level of harmful particle pollution in the country, according to the American Lung Association, and ranks fifth best with regards to toxic exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators model.  New Hampshire has the fourth lowest level of developmental toxins released into its waterways, the fifth lowest level of releases of reproductive toxins and the fifth lowest level of cancer-causing chemicals released.

2. Maine
> Population: 1,318,301 (41st)
> GDP: $51.2 Billion (43rd)
> Toxic Waste: 3,687 Tons (6th)
> Carbon Footprint: 19.9 Million Metric Tons (7th)
> Alternative Energy: 49.8% (4th)

Almost half of the electricity generated by Maine comes from renewable sources.  The state has the largest percentage of its total energy produced coming from non-hydroelectric renewable sources, a total of 23.7%. Since the state has the highest percentage of timberland in the country, it is not surprising that a large portion of its energy comes from wood and wood waste.

1. Vermont
> Population: 621,760 (49th)
> GDP: $25.4 Billion (50th)
> Toxic Waste: 1,536 Tons (3rd)
> Carbon Footprint: 6.4 Million Metric Tons (1st)
> Alternative Energy: 28.1% (7th)

Vermont has the second smallest population and the lowest GDP in the country.  As a result, it produces less pollution than most states. The state releases the fewest carcinogenic toxins and has the smallest carbon footprint in the country. Vermont’s success as a green state isn’t limited to pollution, however: the “Green Mountain State” ranks in the top 15  in 20 out of 28 ranked categories. Vermont has a number of policies to promote efficiency, alternative energy, and reduce pollution, and so far it has succeeded better than any other state.

The Least Green

10. Illinois
> Population: 12,910,409 (5th)
> GDP: $630.3 Billion (5th)
> Toxic Waste: 1.04 Million Tons (43rd)
> Carbon Footprint: 242 Million Metric Tons (45th)
> Alternative Energy: 1.6% (47th)

Illinois uses the third greatest amount of energy out of all the states.  Unfortunately, only 1.6% of this energy comes from renewable sources.  This is the fourth worst percentage in the country.  The state, with its heavy manufacturing industry, also received the fourth worst toxic exposure score by the EPA. The state, however, does have the seventh highest score for solar energy policy.

9. Missouri
> Population: 5,987,580 (18th)
> GDP: $239.7 Billion (22nd)
> Toxic Waste: 238 Thousand Tons (33rd)
> Carbon Footprint: 140 Million Metric Tons (36th)
> Alternative Energy: 2.5% (38th)

The nature of 24/7’s ranking is such that a state might redeem itself for a shortcoming in one category by exceeding in another. If the state doesn’t produce substantial alternative energy, it may be because its size doesn’t allow for much production, and this would be balanced to a certain extent by low pollution levels. Missouri is a perfect example of a state which falls flat in every statistical category. Out of 28 ranked metrics, the “Show Me State” breaks the upper 25 only five times, with 16th in air particle score being its highest ranking. The state ranks 37th in policy initiatives and 48th in non-hydroelectric alternative energy.

8. Kentucky
> Population: 4,314,113 (26th)
> GDP: $156.5 Billion (28th)
> Toxic Waste: 132 Thousand Tons (29th)
> Carbon Footprint: 156 Million Metric Tons (39th)
> Alternative Energy: 2.4% (Tied for 39th)

Kentucky performs poorly in most categories on this list.  It ranks 43rd for releasing cancer-causing chemicals, 44th for releasing developmental toxins, and 41st for releasing reproductive toxins.  The state also ranks 39th for CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

7. Texas
> Population: 24,782,302 (2nd)
> GDP: $1.14 Trillion (2nd)
> Toxic Waste: 13.4 Million Tons (50th)
> Carbon Footprint: 184 Million Metric Tons (50th)
> Alternative Energy: 4.6% (28th)

While Texas does well in some areas, such as producing the greatest amount of wind energy in the country, it performs poorly in several pollution categories.  Much of this is due to the high rates of industry in the state. Texas ranks absolute last for CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, having produced over 670 million metric tons of CO2 in a single year.  The second highest amount is produced by California, however that state produced just under 400 million metric tons, a much smaller amount.  Among Texas’ other poor rankings are 50th for the EPA’s toxic exposure score, 47th for total toxic chemicals released into waterways, 46th for cancer-causing chemicals released, 45th for developmental toxins released, and 49th for reproductive toxins released.  The state also produces the greatest amount of hazardous waste, generating 13,461,911 tons in one year.  This is over three times the amount produced by the second worst-offending state, Georgia, which generates 4,024,468 tons.

6. Pennsylvania
> Population: 12,604,767 (6th)
> GDP: $554.3 Billion (6th)
> Toxic Waste: 290 Thousand Tons (36th)
> Carbon Footprint: 274 Million Metric Tons (48th)
> Alternative Energy: 2.4% (Tied for 39th)

Unlike many of its northeastern neighbors, Pennsylvania ranks very poorly on our list.  This, of course, is due in large part to the state’s expansive and polluting industries.  The “Keystone State” ranks 48th in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, 49th for particulates in the air, and 49th for toxic exposure.  The state’s pollution habits are, unfortunately, not very surprising, since it is well-known for its coal, steel, and natural gas industries.

5. New Jersey

> Population: 8,707,739 (11th)
> GDP: $482.9 Billion (7th)
> Toxic Waste: 555 Thousand Tons (39th)
> Carbon Footprint: 134 Million Metric Tons (34th)
> Alternative Energy: 1.5% (48th)

The only reason most would be surprised about seeing New Jersey here in our ranking is that it isn’t dead last. The Garden State is not known for being green, a reputation that is based in truth. The state ranks 45th in air particle pollution and 46th in ozone pollution. New Jersey actually scores well in energy conservation and alternative energy policy, however these policies haven’t translated into results. As a percent of energy generated that is alternative, the state ranks third-to-last.

4. Louisiana
> Population: 4,492,076 (25th)
> GDP: $208.3 Billion (24th)
> Toxic Waste: 3.8 Million Tons (48th)
> Carbon Footprint: 194 Million Metric Tons (43rd)
> Alternative Energy: 4.1% (30th)

Louisiana is another poor performer. It is 46th in energy-saving policies and programs and has the sixth-smallest alternative energy budget. The state rates horribly in water pollution, falling into the bottom five for releasing carcinogenic toxins, total water pollution, and chemicals which can cause birth defects. Louisiana also produces the third-most toxic waste each year – roughly 3.8 million tons.

3. West Virginia
> Population: 1,819,777 (37th)
> GDP: $63.3 Billion (39th)
> Toxic Waste: 92 Thousand Tons (26th)
> Carbon Footprint: 116 Million Metric Tons (32nd)
> Alternative Energy: 1.8% (46th)

West Virginia stands out at the bottom of our list as having a surprisingly low level of energy consumption. Thirty-eight states use more energy each year than the “Mountain State,” including Iowa, which is in the top ten on our list. This fact makes West Virginia’s horrible performance much more impressive. Only twice does the state break the top 25 in any category, and it ranks in the bottom ten percent in many categories, including alternative energy, policy, air pollution, water pollution, and carbon footprint. The best thing state residents can lay claim to is generating three-quarters of a million megawatt hours of wind energy annually, the 19th best amount for this category.

2. Indiana
> Population: 6,423,113 (16th)
> GDP: $262.6 Billion (16th)
> Toxic Waste: 778 Thousand Tons (41st)
> Carbon Footprint: 230 Million Metric Tons (44th)
> Alternative Energy: 0.7% (Tied For Last)

Indiana’s main source of power production is coal.  In fact, Indiana is home to the country’s largest coal power plant, the Gibson Generating Station.  As a result, the state is tied with Ohio for having the lowest percent usage of renewable energy sources in the United States, with a mere 0.7%.  Additionally, the state has some issues with pollution.  It releases the greatest amount of toxic chemicals into waterways, releasing over 27 million pounds in one year.  The second greatest amount, from Virgina, was significantly less at just over 18 million pounds.

1. Ohio
> Population: 11,542,645 (7th)
> GDP: $471.2 Billion (8th)
> Toxic Waste: 1.3 Million Tons (45th)
> Carbon Footprint: 267 Million Metric Tons (47th)
> Alternative Energy: 0.7% (Tied for Last)

Ohio ranks fifth in energy consumption, and very little of this demand is met by alternative energy. Only 0.7% of the state’s energy comes from renewable sources, the worst rate in the country. Most of the state’s energy comes from coal. Along with this tendency comes a long and poor record of pollution.  The state ranks 47th for CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, 46th for toxic exposure, 47th for developmental toxins released, and 47th for reproductive toxins released.  Additionally, the state ranks second worst, just behind Florida, for hazardous waste violations since 2000, as reported by the nonprofit group OMB Watch.  Ohio may not rank dead last in an extreme number of subcategories, however its overall extremely poor showing causes it to be ranked as the least environmentally friendly state on our list.

-Michael B. Sauter, Charles B. Stockdale, Douglas A. McIntyre, Ashley C. Allen

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