The Environmental State of The Union: A Survey of Pollution, Energy Use and Policy in all 50 States

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14. Rhode Island
Population: 1,053,209 (43rd)
GDP: $47.8 Billion (44th)
Toxic Waste: 4,505 Tons (7th)
Carbon Footprint: 11.1 Million Metric Tons (2nd)
Alternative Energy: 2.2% (Tied for 41st)

Although it is larger than five other states, Rhode Island uses the second lowest amount of energy in the country, behind only Vermont. In addition, the state pays a significant amount of attention to the environment.  The state ranks third for utility and public benefit programs, and third for budget as a percentage of revenue for energy conservation, with 2.66%.  Furthermore, the state ranks second best for CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.  It also has the second smallest amount of toxins released into waterways, behind Nevada.

15. 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. On the other hand, 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.

16. California
Population: 36,961,664 (1st)
GDP: $1.89 Trillion (1st)
Toxic Waste: 699,612 Tons (40th)
Carbon Footprint: 402.8 Million Metric Tons (49th)
Alternative Energy: 23.5% (8th)

California has a very good environmental record, considering the fact that it uses the most energy of any state in the nation.  The state ranks second for percentage of energy used derived from non-hydroelectric, renewable sources, with 11.9%.  Then, due in part to its size but also to its dedication to alternative forms of energy, the state is first in biomass, geothermal, and solar energy produced.  California ranks second for utility and public benefit programs and first for energy-saving targets, for its Energy Efficiency Plan, which is expected to save 7,000 gigawatt hours by 2012.  Additionally, California is ranked first for involvement in policy by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Click on the Graph to see a full-size chart.

Pew Center on Global Climate Change's Database of State Initiatives (2009)

17. Washington
Population: 6,664,195 (13th)
GDP: $338.4 Billion (14th)
Toxic Waste: 317,217 Tons (37th)
Carbon Footprint: 82.6 Million Metric Tons (23rd)
Alternative Energy: 74.5% (2nd)

Washington State shares many similarities with Oregon. Like its neighbor, the state scores in the middle 2/5ths in air pollution, water pollution, and toxic waste. Also like Oregon, Washington does quite well in our policy rankings, scoring 8th in utility efficiency programs and policies (compared to Oregon’s sixth) and has the fourth-largest energy conservation budget as a percentage of revenues (compared to Oregon’s sixth). The only area where 17th ranked Washington does worse than the 15th ranked Oregon is carbon dioxide emissions, where Washington generates 76 million metric tons from fossil fuels (23rd) compared to Oregon’s 40 million (tenth).

18. Alaska
Population: 698,473 (47th)
GDP: $45.7 Billion (45th)
Toxic Waste: 1,890 Tons (4th)
Carbon Footprint: 43.2 Million Metric Tons (14th)
Alternative Energy: 17.4% (10th)

Despite having great potential hydroelectric and wind power, Alaska’s alternative energy resources are underdeveloped.  Instead, the state relies on oil, for the most part, to fulfill its energy needs.  The state does, however, perform very well with regards to pollution.  For instance, the state ranked second for lowest level of toxic exposure, surpassed only by Hawaii.  It also features the fourth lowest level of hazardous waste.

19. Arizona
Population: 6,595,778 (14th)
GDP: $256.3 Billion (18th)
Toxic Waste: 21,059 Tons (12th)
Carbon Footprint: 101.5 Million Metric Tons (29th)
Alternative Energy: 6.2% (22nd)

Arizona’s pollution performance is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the state has one of the best overall scores for water pollution, with the third-smallest amount of total toxic dumping. On the other hand, Arizona is 29th in carbon dioxide emissions, and has the sixth-worst toxic exposure score. The state does relatively well in policy, scoring the highest possible marks in ACEEE’s assessment of energy saving targets. Surprisingly, Arizona falls flat when it comes to alternative energy. It is tied with Alaska for the worst ratio of alternative energy to total energy output. While it produces the fourth-most solar energy, at roughly 14 thousand megawatt hours, this is nothing compared to its neighbor, Nevada, which generates more than ten times that amount.