Carbon Dioxide Emissions: The 9 Best States

The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant supplies a lot of Vermont's electricity, releasing little carbon dioxide. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas. While it is a natural byproduct of respiration, it is also a product of fossil fuel combustion and a major contributor to global climate change. In contrast to a list of the top 14 carbon-emitting states, below is a list of the states emitting the least amounts of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion in 2011. The estimates provided exclude carbon dioxide emissions coming from non-combustion industrial processes, agriculture, waste, or land use, as they are much more difficult to calculate.

All estimates are in metric tons (1 metric ton = 2205 lbs.).

  1. District of Columbia: 3.2 million tons. Top sector: Transportation. A small land area, an urban population, and a developed public transportation system mean a small amount of carbon emissions for DC.
  2. Vermont: 5.9 million tons. Top sector: Transportation. No large city draws long-distance commuters in Vermont, limiting distances traveled by car. Very little of Vermont’s electricity comes from fossil fuel, most is produced by a nuclear generator and hydroelectric power plants.
  3. Rhode Island: 11.1 million tons. Top sectors: Transportation & electric power. A small state with a small population means few emissions. Ninety-eight percent of Rhode Island’s electricity is produced by natural gas plants.
  4. Delaware: 13.1 million tons. Top sectors: Transportation & electric power. Another state with a small population, but a large number of residents commutes to D.C., plus it relies on coal and natural gas for electricity.
  1. South Dakota: 14.8 million tons. Top sector: Transportation. Trucking and personal cars are the primary emission sources in this vast state. The primary source of electricity for South Dakota is hydroelectric plants, which do not produce carbon dioxide. A portion of the state’s energy comes from coal, but it is about to be surpassed in productivity by wind energy. By 2012 wind energy was responsible for producing 24% of all the state’s electricity.
  1. Idaho: 16.0 million tons. Top sector: Transportation. Agriculture and mining produces high trucking activity in this state. Idaho relies on hydroelectricity for power, so almost no carbon dioxide from the energy sector here.
  2. New Hampshire: 16.4 million tons. Top sector: Transportation.
  3. Maine: 17.6 million tons. Top sector: Transportation.
  4. Hawaii: 19.3 million tons: Top sector: Transportation.

The states which have had the largest relative reduction in carbon dioxide emissions since 2000 are the District of Columbia, Nevada, Delaware, New York, and Connecticut. These gains can be due to a switch to lower emitting electricity generating methods (for example, going from coal to natural gas), or it simply could be due to a slow recovery after the 2008 recession. A recent modification of the Clean Air Act proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency seeks to significantly reduce the emissions from electricity generation.


Environmental Protection Agency. State Energy CO2 Emissions.

Environmental Protection Agency. State Electricity Profiles.