The Clean and Clear Winners

Just released data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on carbon dioxide emissions per state in 2005 shows that renewable energy initiatives do pay off. The 10 cleanest states based on per capita emissions—in order, the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, California, Idaho, New York, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Washington—have aggressive renewable energy and/or efficiency programs.

Idaho emissions are so low because the state generates 78 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric dams. The other nine states have clean energy programs with measures such as renewable electricity standards that require utilities to provide a certain amount of electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, or other renewable energy sources. These nine states all have greenhouse gas emissions targets, too.

Even though many of the cleanest states only began their energy programs during the last few years, they are already lowering emissions and now produce one-third to three-fifths less CO2 pollution per person compared to the U.S. average, which is 21 metric tons per person annually.

The gap between the cleanest and dirtiest states is even wider. The 10 dirtiest states emit, on average, over five times as much carbon dioxide per capita as the 10 cleanest states. The 10 top emitters—in order, Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, West Virginia, Louisiana, Montana, Indiana, Kentucky, Alabama, and New Mexico—all produce or burn significant amounts of oil and/or coal.

This CO2 data indicates that renewable electricity standards, efficiency efforts, and pollution reduction programs successfully lower emissions. This is an important lesson for the next president and Congress as they debate energy and global warming proposals.