Earth Day is celebrated on April 22, and those who celebrate it this year will do so in light of the increasingly grim news surrounding global climate change. Even some of the more conservative climate models predict dire consequences should global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fail to improve. While some parts of the world have made aggressive commitments to reduce emissions, the United States — the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter — has fallen behind most affluent countries in efforts to reduce emissions.
Some states, however, are actually very eco-friendly compared to the rest of the country. While the United States announced in 2017 its plans to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, many state governments have set their own goals to reduce emissions in line with the international agreement.
The burning of fossil fuels is one of the primary causes not just of greenhouse gas emissions, but also of other forms of air pollution and environmental harm. While some U.S. states generate over 90% of electricity by burning coal, oil, or natural gas, others have a largely green electricity generation profile. In Vermont, for example, 99.6% of electricity generated comes from alternative sources.
Eco-friendly states enact more aggressive local restrictions on energy use for its businesses and transportation systems, use more renewable energy sources and less fossil fuels, and generally have less pollution. 24/7 Wall St. created an index of air pollution levels, state energy generation and efficiency policy, and employment in green jobs to identify the 16 most eco-friendly states.
> Energy generated from renewable sources: 14.1% (22nd highest)
> Energy generated from fossil fuels: 81.6% (13th highest)
> Green industry employment: 15.8% (10th lowest)
> Avg. daily particle pollution: 0.0 ug/m3 (the lowest)
The air in Hawaii is very clean. The Aloha State has, on average, the lowest concentration of harmful fine particulate matter per cubic meter among states. The state legislature’s current goal is for 100% of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2045. Already, there are days in Hawaii when 60% of all electricity is generated by renewable sources.
Hawaii has a major state financial incentive for energy sufficiency — the Green Energy Market Securitization financing program. The program provides people with products that result in electricity bill savings.
> Energy generated from renewable sources: 25.4% (15th highest)
> Energy generated from fossil fuels: 50.3% (16th lowest)
> Green industry employment: 17.7% (20th highest)
> Avg. daily particle pollution: 10.5 ug/m3 (8th highest)
Minnesota has made great strides in reducing its reliance on coal in recent years. Coal-fired power plants accounted for 39% of utility-scale electricity generation in the state in 2017, a considerable improvement from 49% as recently as 2014. As of 2017, 19% of electricity produced in the state was wind generated, a larger share than in all but six other states. Overall, renewable energy sources like biomass, wind, and hydroelectricity account for over a quarter of all energy produced in the state.
> Energy generated from renewable sources: 46.5% (8th highest)
> Energy generated from fossil fuels: 52.2% (19th lowest)
> Green industry employment: 17.8% (18th highest)
> Avg. daily particle pollution: 6.8 ug/m3 (4th lowest)
Montana has some of the cleanest air in the country — it has the fourth lowest concentration of harmful particulate matter per cubic meter among states. The low concentration of particulate matter is partially the result of the state’s increased reliance on clean energy. Nearly half of all electricity generated in the state comes from renewable sources — compared to just 17% of energy production nationwide. Most renewable energy in the state is either hydroelectric or wind generated.
13. New Hampshire
> Energy generated from renewable sources: 19.7% (18th highest)
> Energy generated from fossil fuels: 22.8% (5th lowest)
> Green industry employment: 17.0% (21st lowest)
> Avg. daily particle pollution: 8.3 ug/m3 (14th lowest)
New Hampshire generates 22.8% of its electricity from fossil fuels, the fifth lowest share of all states. In comparison, all but seven states generate more than 38.0% of their electricity from oil, coal, or natural gas.
The state has incorporated several renewable energy incentives, one of which is a property tax exemption for certain installations such as solar panels, wind turbines, and central wood-fired heating systems.
> Energy generated from renewable sources: 22.9% (17th highest)
> Energy generated from fossil fuels: 77.6% (15th highest)
> Green industry employment: 20.9% (5th highest)
> Avg. daily particle pollution: 7.6 ug/m3 (6th lowest)
Colorado has one of the most environmentally friendly job markets in the country, with more than one in every five workers employed in a green industry. Additionally, 24% of workers in the state commute using environmentally sound means, like biking or walking, a larger share than in most other states. Colorado also has relatively clean air with a lower concentration of harmful particulate matter per cubic meter than all but six other states.