This list of the least eco-friendly states in the US was compiled mainly from the findings of a study conducted by the website 247wallst.com. The study took into account a number of statistics about each state’s environmental practices and other factors, including energy consumption, carbon footprint, percent of energy from alternative sources, toxic waste produced, cancer-causing chemicals released into the environment, and other key metrics.
In addition to the 247wallst.com rankings, we also took into account a 2016 WalletHub study of the “greenest” states. This study was largely based on the overall environmental quality in each state, as well as each state’s relative contribution to climate change and residents’ environmentally friendly behaviors.
Read on to find out which states have the least environmentally friendly policies and practices, and what they’re doing to improve their reputation.
Nicknamed the Bluegrass State, Kentucky has a population of over 4 million people and produces more than 132,000 tons of toxic waste annually, while only getting 2.4 percent of its energy from alternative sources. Kentucky performed poorly in nearly all categories in the 247wallst.com survey. It releases a large amount of carcinogenic substances into the environment and is also responsible for a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions from combustible fossil fuels.
As of 2015, Kentucky was the third-largest producer of coal, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The state mined approximately 61 million short tons of bituminous coal that year. In addition, the state of Kentucky, along with others, is challenging the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which calls for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
With a population of nearly 6 million people, Missouri produced about 238,000 tons of toxic waste and has a carbon footprint of 140 million metric tons. To top it off, Missouri only derives 2.5 percent of its energy from alternative sources.
One barrier to a cleaner environment and lower greenhouse gas emissions is the fact that environmental regulations in Missouri are relatively lax compared to other states. Although Missouri is still subject to federal laws, lobbyists from the state continue to push for looser regulations and have attempted to defund Subtitle C, part of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The act gives the federal government power to oversee the proper disposal of hazardous waste, including coal ash, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants that contains mercury, arsenic, and other substances that can pollute drinking water and the air.
With a large population approaching 25 million people, Texas produces 13.4 million tons of toxic waste every year, and it leads the nation in terms of its carbon footprint, which is 184 million metric tons. Additionally, Texas only gets 4.6 percent of its energy from alternative sources. The state generates the most CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and produced 670 million metric tons of CO2 in just one year. It’s estimated that the average Texas resident uses about 476 gallons of gas every year and that each resident is responsible for 1.2 tons of solid waste. Recycling rates are also low, coming in at an average of 9 percent.
While Texas did not score well in many areas, there are a few things that the state is doing correctly when it comes to the environment. For example, Texas has led the way in LEED certified buildings, with about 32 LEED buildings for every 100,000 residents—a ratio that’s the third-highest in the country. Alternative fuel vehicles and zero-emissions vehicles also sell rather well in the state; Texas ranked number 18 in this category. Finally, although Texas gets most of its energy from conventional sources, it generates more wind power than any other state.
Known as the Garden State, New Jersey has a large population for such a small state, with more than 8 million residents—the 11th highest in the country. The state ranks low in terms of alternative energy, with only 1.5 percent of its energy coming from alternative sources. The 247wallst.com study also found that New Jersey was responsible for generating 555,000 tons of toxic waste. These numbers may not necessarily come as a surprise, as New Jersey has never really had a reputation for being environmentally friendly.
One thing New Jersey is doing right, however, is energy conservation. In addition, state lawmakers have made progress in recent years in enacting policies to encourage the use of renewable energy sources. These policies have not translated into results yet, however.
These are just a few of the least environmentally-friendly states in the US, but several others also score poorly on many of the metrics mentioned above, including Alabama, Louisiana, and Wyoming. These states could take notes from the greenest states, including Vermont, Oregon, Maine, and Massachusetts, which have all made great strides in terms of environmental protection.