The 3 Top Polluting States

Every state in this nation represents a diverse array of people, places, and pollution. A new report released this week lists the top carbon dioxide-emitting states among us, and the numbers are as shocking as they are disparate. Let's look at our nation's top polluters, as well as what it means for our nation's notion to go green.

The big three
Everything's bigger in Texas -- including pollution. According to a report from the Energy Information Administration, the Lone Star State emitted 650 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2010 (the most recent available data). Not only is that 75% higher than California, No. 2 on our polluters list, but it's also greater than Canada's total emissions and 108 times Vermont's.

If California is any evidence, politics are no predictor of pollution. The Golden State's 370 million tons take second place, while Pennsylvania snags bronze with 257 million tons. Bringing up the carbon dioxide caboose are Rhode Island, Vermont, and D.C.


Balancing the books
But pollution production alone isn't enough to play the blame game. The EIA's report adds some nuance to our finger-wagging by detailing per capita emissions. Population-heavy California heads to Team Green in 48th place, while Texas and Pennsylvania drop into 15th and 21st place, respectively. Wyoming takes the carbon cake at nearly 120 metric tons per person, followed by North Dakota and Alaska.


Patriotic pollution?
Nebraska's pollution grew the most from 2000 to 2010. Forty-six percent of Alaska's emissions come from natural gas. Industry pumps out nearly 60% of Louisiana's pollution.

But there's an important caveat to the statistics smattered across this report: "An analysis that attributed 'responsibility' for emissions with consumption rather than production of electricity, which is beyond the scope of the present paper, would yield different results."

That's right. Everything might be bigger in Texas, but that's because Vermont wants its consumption cake without pollution pie. Idaho may be low on pollution, but it imported half of its electricity in 2010. Wyoming's per capita pollution production blows its competition away, but the state exports 150% of its electricity.

An emissions mission
Our nation is founded on the principles of independence and decentralized decision-making. But there's a catch. State-led pollution policies provide an uneven playing field for carbon emitters and put states like Texas in a tough spot.

States may claim green policy, but that doesn't change a thing if West Virginia weighs in with coal or Pennsylvania provides petroleum. Utilities may head to calm regulatory waters, but carbon emissions and climate change know no borders.

If the United States aims to take pollution policy seriously, it needs to emphasize federal standards to put states and energy companies on level ground across the nation. Corporations can't compete if they play by different rules, and the public (no matter where they live) ends up losing. It may be patriotic to pinch pollution, but we need policy that packs the punch.

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Motley Fool contributor Justin Loiseau has no position in any stocks mentioned, but he does use electricity.The Motley Fool recommends Exelon. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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