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

December 16, 2010 by Douglas A. McIntyre

Although all the countries which attended the recent Climate Summit in Cancun, Mexico claimed to care about the environment, they have an odd way of showing it. The challenges are more profound in the US than many other countries. America has been the leader of the industrial world since the Great Depression. That makes it the nation that has polluted the most for the longest amount of time.

24/7 Wall St. has analyzed the environmental issues facing the 50 states. Pollution is as much a state problem as a national one. Ohio, which ranks poorly on our list, has more problems 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 consequence, 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.  For example, Mississippi ranks third on our list in Environmental Protection Agency violations.  Meanwhile, the state ranks in the bottom half of our list for financial incentives for alternative energy and 49th in energy efficiency. Conversely, Iowa, is in the bottom half for carbon footprint, air particle pollution, and water pollution. Nevertheless, the state ranks in the top ten overall because it scores well in areas such as financial incentives for energy consumption and wind energy production.

The results of this effort are what we believe to be among the most comprehensive report on the state of pollution in all 50 states coupled with each state’s responses.

One of the conclusions that can be drawn from this report is that the problems affecting the environment are significant and cannot be readily solved. States and the federal government can make progress, but that progress is limited by the conditions of each state. They include the type and scale of industry, the amount of regulation imposed on those industries, the number of people that need to be supported, and the natural resources of the state. Unfortunately, because the US now runs annual deficits of more than $1 trillion, there is no appetite to increase the annual deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars to improve the environment.

In 1963, John Kennedy said, “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man.” Given America’s problems with the environment, however, that may no longer be true. What is true, based on our research, is environmental problems can be identified more quickly than they were in the past and there are more programs established to solve these problems. Policy makers and the public now realize that the amount of time left to address many of the most pressing problems is limited.

This is the 24/7 Wall St. ranking of the 50 states based on the environmental problems in each state and how effectively these problems are addressed.

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.

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 holds the number one spot for percentage of energy produced 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.

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

From the Environmental Protection Agency's National Biennial RCRA Hazardous Waste Report (2009)

3. 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. 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, the fifth lowest level of releases of reproductive toxins and the fifth lowest level of cancer-causing chemicals released.

5. 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.

Click on thumbnail of graph to see full-size chart.

the Environmental Protection Agency's Database of State C02 Emissions from Fossil Fuel Combustion in 2008 (2009)

6. 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.

8. Wyoming
Population: 544,270 (50th)
GDP: $37.5 Billion (47th)
Toxic Waste: 3,502 Tons (5th)
Carbon Footprint: 64.6 Million Metric Tons (18th)
Alternative Energy: 3.9% (32nd)

As might be expected of the least populous state in the Union, Wyoming has relatively low levels of pollution. The state has the best score for particle air pollution in the country and ranks fourth for toxic chemicals dumped into waterways. Despite its performance in pollution, the “Equality State” is actually below average in policy. It has no long-term green utility goal and received the third-worst score on ACEEE’s energy efficiency scorecard.

9. 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 freshwater 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.

10. Iowa
Population: 3,007,856 (30th)
GDP: $142.2 Billion (30th)
Toxic Waste: 40,316 Tons (18th)
Carbon Footprint: 85.2 Million Metric Tons (25th)
Alternative Energy: 9.6% (15th)

Iowa rounds out the top ten states with the most environmentally friendly rankings.  The state’s high position is due in large part to its impressive usage of alternative forms of energy.  It ranks second in wind energy usage, with 7,331,391 megawatt hours produced last year, and third in total nonhyrdroelectric energy, with 7,506,649 megawatt hours.  Iowa also notably has the best energy saving target as assessed by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy by calling for investor-owned utilities to achieve 1.5% energy savings by 2010 and 0.85% natural gas savings by 2013.

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

U.S. Energy Information Administration's Renewable Energy Consumption and Electricity Preliminary Statistics (2009)

11. North Dakota
Population: 646,844 (48th)
GDP: $31.8 Billion (49th)
Toxic Waste: 530,504 Tons (38th)
Carbon Footprint: 49.0 Million Metric Tons (15th)
Alternative Energy: 9.0% (17th)

North Dakota has the second smallest GDP in the country, but it produces the 13th most toxic waste annually (just behind New Jersey) at 530,000 tons. The state does a good job managing it.   North Dakota has the ninth-lowest volume of waste into state waterways and has had the fourth fewest EPA violations since 2000. The state also has the second best scores for particle air pollution and is tied for first in ozone pollution with Hawaii, Montana and Nebraska. Additionally, since much of the state’s geography consists of open plains, it is ideal for wind turbines and produces the 11th most wind energy annually.

12. Minnesota
Population: 5,266,214 (21st)
GDP: $260.6 Billion (17th)
Toxic Waste: 106,804 Tons (28th)
Carbon Footprint: 99.9 Million Metric Tons (28th)
Alternative Energy: 12.0% (12th)

Minnesota ranks third for percentage of energy resources used coming from nonhydroelectric renewable sources, mostly from wind energy. A main cause for Minnesota’s good standing is public policy.  The state ranks fifth for utility and public benefit programs and has the best energy saving target score as awarded by ACEEE, because of Governor Pawlenty’s Next Generation Energy Initiative, which required a 1.5% annual energy savings of both electric and natural gas sales by 2025.

13. 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.

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.

20. Oklahoma
Population: 3,687,050 (28th)
GDP: $153.7 Billion (29th)
Toxic Waste: 41,874 Tons (20th)
Carbon Footprint: 109.3 Million Metric Tons (31st)
Alternative Energy: 8.3% (18th)

Oklahoma ranks fifth in oil production and third in natural gas production.  The state still manages to rank 14th for conventional hydroelectric energy and 11th for wind. It also has one of the worst scores in the RSEI toxic exposure index, ranking 43rd.

21. New Mexico
Population: 2,009,671 (36th)
GDP: $74.8 Billion (37th)
Toxic Waste: 1,078,672 Tons (44th)
Carbon Footprint: 58.6 Million Metric Tons (16th)
Alternative Energy: 5.3% (Tied for 25th)

New Mexico ties for seventh in The Pew Center’s list of energy efficiency programs, beating out all southwestern states. “The Land of Enchantment,” as it’s called, also performs above average in most pollution categories, and ranks seventh in toxic chemicals dumped into waterways. However, the state generates more than one million tons of toxic waste per year, the third-highest amount in the country.

22. Massachusetts
Population: 6,593,587 (15th)
GDP: $365.1 Billion (13th)
Toxic Waste: 32,471 Tons (15th)
Carbon Footprint: 79.9 Million Metric Tons (22nd)
Alternative Energy: 5.7% (23rd)

Massachusetts’ ranking benefits greatly from the state’s progressive public policy.  ACEEE rates it the highest of any state both for financial incentives with regards to energy conservation, and energy-saving targets.  The state has trouble enforcing green behavior at times, however.  Since 2000 there have been 1,337 hazardous waste violations by businesses, the 39th worst in the country.  The state also ties for 45th worst ozone pollution.

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

U.S. Energy Information Administration's Renewable Energy Consumption and Electricity Preliminary Statistics (2009)

23. Arkansas
Population: 2,889,450 (32nd)
GDP: $101.8 Billion (34th)
Toxic Waste: 273,192 Tons (34th)
Carbon Footprint: 63.7 Million Metric Tons (17th)
Alternative Energy: 11.2% (13th)

In general, Arkansas tends to rank between 30th and 40th in most metrics. The state performs particularly poorly in water pollution and policy. Arkansas is 42nd in carcinogenic chemical dumping (50,000 lbs. in a year) and receives one of the worst scores in solar policy. The only significant positive notes on Arkansas is that the state ranks 13th in total energy output that is from alternative sources (11.2%) and that it ranks 11th in particle pollution.

24. Utah
Population: 2,784,572 (34th)
GDP: $112.9 Billion (33rd)
Toxic Waste: 59,448 Tons (22nd)
Carbon Footprint: 69.2 Million Metric Tons (20th)
Alternative Energy: 2.1% (Tied for 43rd)

Utah has a greater amount of particulate matter in its air than any other state.  This is due in large part to the state’s immense mining industry.  When it comes to dealing with environmentally dangerous material, however, the state does fairly well.  For instance, Utah ranks 22nd out of all 50 states for most hazardous waste generated.  With regards to EPA violations over dealing with this waste, there have only been 86 since 2000, the second lowest amount in the country.

25. Maryland
Population: 5,699,478 (19th)
GDP: $286.7 Billion (15th)
Toxic Waste: 33,684 Tons (16th)
Carbon Footprint: 77.9 Million Metric Tons (24th)
Alternative Energy: 5.5% (24th)

Maryland earns the honor of being placed directly in the middle of our ranking and, while it averages evenly, it is due to a case of extremes. Points to the state’s credit include tying for 11th on the Pew list of energy efficiency policies, placing 6th for EPA toxic waste violations (only 136 since 2000) and, most impressively, having the 5th smallest level of toxic dumping into state waterways. Maryland suffers, however, from poor air quality (42nd in ozone and 38th in particle pollution) and alternative energy production that is below-average both as a percentage of the state’s total output and in gross kilowatt hours.

26. Connecticut
Population: 3,518,288 (29th)
GDP: $227.4 Billion (23rd)
Toxic Waste: 21,148 Tons (13th)
Carbon Footprint: 40.2 Million Metric Tons (11th)
Alternative Energy: 4.2% (29th)

Connecticut is generally an environmentally friendly state.  It is within the top 15 for the majority of categories considered for this list, and even received the second highest score offered by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.  One area where the state does extremely poorly, however, is air quality.  The American Lung Association places Connecticut at 45th for ozone levels and 48th for levels of airborne particulates.

27. Wisconsin
Population: 5,654,774 (20th)
GDP: $244.3 Billion (21st)
Toxic Waste: 223,441 Tons (32nd)
Carbon Footprint: 104.4 Million Metric Tons (30th)
Alternative Energy: 5.3% (Tied for 25th)

Considering it is in the bottom half of our list, Wisconsin performs quite well in policy initiatives and programs, ranking at least 22nd in every category. The state is fourth in utility alternative energy targets, pledging 10% by 2015, and has the best score for financial incentives  for individuals to improve energy efficiency. The state’s shortfalls are in areas like toxic exposure, where it ranks 38th, and toxic waste violations, where the state ranks 41st, with more than 1,300 violations since 2000.

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

U.S. Energy Information Administration's Renewable Energy Consumption and Electricity Preliminary Statistics (2009)

28. Nebraska
Population: 1,796,619 (38th)
GDP: $86.4 (36th)
Toxic Waste: 28,187 Tons (14th)
Carbon Footprint: 43.9 Million Metric Tons (13th)
Alternative Energy: 1.9% (45th)

Nebraska has a number of positive environmental features.  It has the lowest levels of ozone in its air, for instance, and the eighth lowest amount of particulates in the air. The state has not made significant attempts at greener policy, however, and is ranked 46th for energy efficiency by the ACEEE. The state also suffers from some serious forms of pollution.  In 2007, more than 17 million pounds of toxic chemicals were released into Nebraska’s waterways.  This was the third greatest amount in the country for that year.  The fourth greatest amount, which was released in Texas, was just over 13 million pounds.

29. New York
Population: 19,541,453 (3rd)
GDP: $1.09 Trillion (3rd)
Toxic Waste: 1,032,626 Tons (42nd)
Carbon Footprint: 201.3 Million Metric Tons (42nd)
Alternative Energy: 21.4% (9th)

New York is another state with stellar policy scores, but these policies have not yet yielded results, as the state is dreadful in nearly every other category besides alternative energy generation. New York is sixth on the Pew list of policies, fourth on ACEEE energy efficiency scorecard, second in energy-saving targets, and tied for first in solar power policy, utility financial incentives, and energy use reduction targets. However, New York is also 39th in carcinogenic chemicals dumped, 42nd in toxic waste generation ( more than 1 million tons in a year) and carbon emissions (194 million metric tons). The Empire State is also 47th in EPA toxic waste violations.

30. Mississippi
Population: 2,951,996 (31st)
GDP: $95.9 Billion (35th)
Toxic Waste: 1.7 Million Tons (46th)
Carbon Footprint: 67.8 Million Metric Tons (19th)
Alternative Energy: 2.9% (Tied For 36th)

Mississippi has overall weak policy put in place with regards to the environment.  The state ranks 46th for utility and public benefit programs and has the second to worst overall score awarded by ACEEE for energy efficiency.  It is also has the worst environmental standards as tracked by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.  Mississippi does, however, handle its dangerous waste well.  The state produced 1,702,446 tons of hazardous waste in one year, the fifth largest amount in the country. Since 2000, however, there have only been 103 violations in disposing of hazardous waste, the third lowest amount.

31. South Carolina
Population: 4,561,242 (24th)
GDP: $159.6 Billion (27th)
Toxic Waste: 102 Thousand Tons (27th)
Carbon Footprint: 89.3 Million Metric Tons (26th)
Alternative Energy: 2.9% (Tied For 36th)

South Carolina has high levels of pollution, low levels of alternative energy for its size and potential, and insufficient policies in place to change either. Despite its geographic location and relatively sunny weather, the state ranks second to last in incentives and programs supporting solar energy, behind only Alaska (which has a reasonable excuse). The state ranks in the bottom ten in carcinogenic, development-inhibiting, and reproductive toxins dumped into waterways. Only 1.9% of the state’s electricity production comes from non-hydroelectric alternative energy sources, and it has no production to speak of in wind, solar, or geothermal energy.

32. Florida
Population: 18,537,969 (4th)
GDP: $737 Billion (4th)
Toxic Waste: 168.9 Thousand Tons (30th)
Carbon Footprint: 256.2 Million Metric Tons (46th)
Alternative Energy: 2.1% (Tied for 43rd)

Florida is the second greatest user of energy in the country.  Only 2.1% of the energy produced in the state comes from renewable sources, however, placing Florida 43rd in this category.  Florida also ranks last for violations in disposing of hazardous materials, with 4,193 violations recorded since 2000.

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

U.S. Energy Information Administration's Energy Consumption Estimates by Source and End-Use Sector (2008)


33. North Carolina
Population: 9,380,884 (10th)
GDP: $398 Billion (10th)
Toxic Waste: 71.7 Thousand Tons (24th)
Carbon Footprint: 153.5 Million Metric Tons (38th)
Alternative Energy: 4% (31st)

Relative to South Carolina, North Carolina scores better in most policy rankings, including 10th in energy-saving targets and sixth in financial incentives. The state, however, performs worse than its southern neighbor in areas like water pollution. In the most recent recorded year, the Tar Heel State dumped roughly 170,000 pounds of carcinogenic chemicals into its waterways, 30,000 pounds more than any other state. North Carolina is also ranked 38th for their carbon footprint.

34. Michigan
Population: 9,969,727 (8th)
GDP: $368.4 Billion (12th)
Toxic Waste: 284.2 Thousand Tons (35th)
Carbon Footprint: 182.9 Million Metric Tons (40th)
Alternative Energy: 3.4% (35th)

Michigan has excellent energy-saving targets, ranked fourth in the nation by the ACEEE.  It also has the best rating given by the ACEEE for financial incentives for energy efficiency.  However, the state ranks 40th for CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, 43rd for its air’s ozone level, and 46th for number of hazardous waste disposal violations since 2000.

35. Tennessee
Population: 6,296,254 (18th)
GDP: $244.5 Billion (20th)
Toxic Waste: 78.5 Thousand Tons (21st)
Carbon Footprint: 128.3 Million Metric Tons (35th)
Alternative Energy: 7.3% (20th)

At 10.7 million megawatt hours in a year, Tennessee generates the seventh largest amount of alternative energy. Most of this energy – about 9.5 million megawatt hours – comes from hydroelectric generation, which is controversial for its negative impact on ecosystems. Tennessee’s total non-hydroelectric output is 32nd in the country, despite being the 18th largest state. The state also ranks 41st in solar energy policy, 45th in ozone levels, and 47th in the dumping of carcinogenic toxins.

36. Virginia
Population: 7,882,590 (12th)
GDP: $408.4 Billion (9th)
Toxic Waste: 51 Thousand Tons (21st)
Carbon Footprint: 127.9 Million Metric Tons (33rd)
Alternative Energy: 5.1% (27th)

Virginia has a poor record when it comes to pollution.  In 2007, the state released over 18 million pounds of toxic chemicals into its waterways, the second largest amount in the country that year.  It places within the top twenty for a number of policy-related categories, however.  Virginia ranks 17th for solar power policy and 18th with regards to ACEEE’s financial incentives score.

37. Delaware
Population: 885,122 (45th)
GDP: $60.5 Billion (40th)
Toxic Waste: 19.8 Thousand Tons (11th)
Carbon Footprint: 17.3 Million Metric Tons (5th)
Alternative Energy: 2.2% (Tied for 41st)

Many small states on our list suffer in the ranks because they produce little alternative energy compared to states that have the space and demand to do so. This disadvantage is usually balanced out by the fact that these states also generally have smaller industrial infrastructures, and so produce less pollution. Delaware, however, manages to have the worst of both worlds. The state is average at best for most types of pollution, except for featuring good toxic waste scores, yet it ranks 45th in ozone pollution. Delaware also produces the least alternative energy of any state, about 140,000 megawatt hours. The next-worst state, Nebraska, produced more than five times this.

38. Alabama
Population: 4,708,708 (23rd)
GDP: $169.8 Billion (25th)
Toxic Waste: 2 Million Tons (47th)
Carbon Footprint: 145 Million Metric Tons (37th)
Alternative Energy: 6.5% (21st)

Alabama’s greatest environmental attribute is its use of alternative energy sources. Although the state ranks 35th for total energy used, it ranks sixth for using the greatest amount of alternative energy.  However, the state produces a large amount of waste.  The state released the 95,038 pounds of developmental toxins in 2009, the greatest amount of all 50 states.  It also released the second greatest amount of cancer-causing chemicals.  The state also generated the fourth greatest amount of hazardous waste.

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

The Environmental Protection Agency's Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (2009)


39. Kansas
Population: 2,818,747 (33rd)
GDP: $124.9 Billion (32nd)
Toxic Waste: 222.8 Thousand Tons (31st)
Carbon Footprint: 78.4 Million Metric Tons (21st)
Alternative Energy: 3.8% (33rd)

Thanks to its open plains, Kansas has the tenth-highest wind generation. It also does relatively well in air quality, with the sixth-best particle pollution score. Otherwise, the “Sunflower State” does quite poorly. Due in part to runoff from airplane manufacturing plants and other major sources in the state’s industrial centers, Kansas is responsible for introducing the second-highest amount of developmental toxins into state waterways and, with 32,000 pounds, the most reproductive toxins. Kansas also has one of the worst RSEI toxicity exposure scores, ranking 48th in this category.

40. 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.

41. 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.

42. 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 significantly 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.

43. Georgia
Population: 9,829,211 (9th)
GDP: $395 Billion (11th)
Toxic Waste: 4 Million Tons (49th)
Carbon Footprint: 184 Million Metric Tons (41st)
Alternative Energy: 3.6% (34th)

Georgia suffers both from below average policy and alternative energy scores. However, it is Georgia’s pollution which drops the state all the way down to 43rd in our rankings. The “Peach State” is the second-largest producer of hazardous waste, with 4 million tons produced in a single year. It also is 45th in carcinogenic chemicals released into waterways and has the country’s ninth-worst carbon footprint.

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

Environment America Research and Policy Center's "Wasting Our Waterways" Report (2009)

44. 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.

45. 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.

46. 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 industry.  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.

47. 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.

48. 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.

49. 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 quite 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.

50. 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. The majority 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