Climate change is a complicated subject. It’s not all about sinking cities and extreme heatwaves that could leave millions dead. There are real economic implications at play, as well. What we do today to try to alter our carbon dioxide emissions will create ripples in the economy. Those ripples will impact certain states more than others, especially those that tend to be among the country’s worst polluters.
Nobody wants to pollute, of course. But it’s merely a product of industry — especially when we’re talking about the energy sector. Those industries are very active in some states and less so in others. And as a result, emission levels will be higher in some places. Also, some states import a lot of fossil fuels for energy production. As such, developing a list of the country’s biggest polluters isn’t as easy as pointing to the states that mine the most coal, for example.
A report from M.J. Bradley & Associates — which was distributed in conjunction with Ceres, Bank of America, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Entergy, and Exelon — manages to take it all into consideration and give us an accurate ranking. The report ranks the states by total CO2 emissions and gives us an idea of which ones are the biggest polluters. Here are the country’s 15 worst states when it comes to CO2 emissions.
15. North Carolina
North Carolina is fairly populous but isn’t in an area we would traditionally call “coal country.” Though part of the state overlaps with the Appalachians, North Carolina, by and large, doesn’t share the same mindset as states, such as West Virginia or Kentucky. The state produces most of its power production from its three nuclear plants, but fossil fuels are still a part of the equation, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Out west, Arizona is in prime position to benefit greatly from green energy production. Because it’s so dry and arid, solar energy production is right at home in the state — but that doesn’t mean it’s not among the nation’s largest polluters and CO2 emitters. There’s actually one coal mine still operating in the state, but you can bet green and renewable energy will be the talk of every Arizona town in coming years.
When discussing the state of Louisiana and energy, the mind tends to conjure up images of offshore drilling rigs. That’s part of it, as are numerous pipelines carrying oil and gas from the country’s interior to the Gulf Coast. These are some of the reasons Louisiana is on the list, along with its dependence on coal-fired power plants. Louisiana also ranks first in total energy consumption per capita among the states, mostly because of the heavy industry presence.
In 2015, Georgia produced somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 million tons of CO2 emissions. That’s dwarfed by other states higher up the list, but it’s substantial nonetheless. Like many other states we’ve covered so far, Georgia’s power production mostly comes from the burning of fossil fuels — coal and natural gas, in particular. But nuclear production is up there, as well.
One of Georgia’s neighboring states also managed to avoid the top 10.
When you think of Alabama, you probably don’t think of Toyota Priuses. And that’s because it’s as deep red of a state as there is. Although that doesn’t directly translate into CO2 emissions, it’s a part of the equation. Right now, Alabama’s power plants generate the lion’s share of the state’s electricity by burning natural gas and coal like Georgia. Also like Georgia, nuclear is in the mix.
So far, our list has kept us mostly in the South. Now, we’re heading north to the great state of Michigan. In 2015, Michigan’s total CO2 emissions were somewhere around 70 million tons, which was enough to put the state in the top 10. Most of Michigan’s electricity is generated through the burning of natural gas and, to a lesser extent, coal.
9. West Virginia
When you think of West Virginia, odds are you think of coal — or coal miners. It’s fossil fuels, either way. And that’s fair, as the state ranks second in the country in coal production and seventh overall in natural gas production. As such, it also generates most of its electricity via those two sources, as well. Both of which, of course, spit a lot of carbon into the atmosphere.
Missouri is in the middle of the United States. It’s largely rural and flat. And as it doesn’t lie on top of a hotbed of natural resources, it doesn’t rank highly in any category of energy production. As such, it imports a lot of fossil fuels to satisfy its electricity needs. Again, coal and natural gas are the two biggest logs on that fire, with 83% of Missouri’s energy production coming from coal-fired power plants.
Kentucky is another state, like West Virginia, that has been front and center in the fossil fuel fight in recent years. That’s because the state is home to many coal mines. And as natural gas has overtaken coal as a cheaper alternative, local economies have taken a hit. Like Missouri, 83% of the state’s electricity is produced by coal-fired power plants, making it among the country’s top polluters.
The next batch of states on our list share some common features: They’re in the Midwest, they’re flat and lack access to natural resources, and they’re fairly populous. Illinois is first among them. Though the state does produce a lot of coal, it also gets most of its energy needs from nuclear power plants. But burning natural gas and coal are still up there, earning it a high spot on the list.
Like Illinois, Ohio is a flat, populous state in the Midwest. And also like Illinois, it produces a fair amount of coal. But it’s also among the top 10 in natural gas production. And as a result it gets most of its energy production through the burning of natural gas. Coal is a close second in that equation, with all other sources distant. Ohio is starting to adopt more green energy, however, which should help curb emissions down the road.
We’re not through in the Midwest. Indiana ranks fourth on the list of the country’s biggest CO2 polluters. According to the report, Indiana’s total CO2 emissions in 2015 came up just short of 100 million tons. Again, when you see which state took the top spot, it’ll make Indiana’s figures look downright pedestrian. Indiana’s emissions are the result of high levels of natural gas and coal consumption.
The Keystone State has been in the middle of the bubbling energy fight for years now. Pennsylvania is home to a lot of coal and natural gas production and is the country’s third-largest overall energy producer. According to the Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania generates most of its energy from coal and natural gas (as you might expect), but nuclear energy is also one of the state’s energy tent poles.
An awful lot of people call Florida home, which means the demand for energy is high. Of course, Florida doesn’t have a lot of coal mines or natural gas fields (though there are some), so it pipes in a lot of fossil fuels to satisfy demand. Burning natural gas and coal are the primary ways Floridians get their power, which, in turn, means the state kicks out a lot of CO2. All told, it amounted to more than 110 million tons in 2015.
But what about the top overall state? It produced more than double that amount over the same time period.
Everything’s bigger in Texas — and that includes CO2 emissions. Texas is a huge and populous state, with a lot of energy production to boot. In 2015, Texas’ total CO2 emissions amounted to nearly 250 million tons — by far and away the most in the country. Texas is the nation’s No. 1 producer of crude oil, natural gas, and total energy overall. And emissions are, unfortunately, an ugly part of that equation.