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Ranking: What does it mean to be #1 on climate

May 20th, 2017 · 3 Comments

Associated with a recent announcement about an Executive Order for the drafting of potential regulatory structure for a carbon-trading program to be put out for public comment and then consideration under Virginia’s next Governor, Governor Terry McAuliffe tweeted out that this would “keep VA #1 on climate issues”.

While that tweet generated some ridiculing from clean energy activists, McAuliffe’s tweeting assertion raising the question: What does it mean to be “#1 on climate issues”?

Smart Asset

Which States Lead on Renewable Energy Policy and Progress

How might we measure this? Here are some potential items:

  • Carbon Emissions per capita?
  • Energy use per capita?
  • Energy Efficiency? (home? business? car?)
  • ‘Climate-aware policies’?
  • Industrial pollution?
  • “Leading the charge on renewable energy”?
  • Or …

Thus, a quick search for ‘what measurements’ might exist to help illuminate the question of who is “#1 on climate issues”.  Essentially, across the board, Virginia is middle-of-the-pack (or toward the bottom) in results, , and policies to address climate change.


Table 1: Various Measures of States related to “Climate Issues”

Category Best Worst Virginia Source
Per Capita Energy Use New York Louisiana 30 EIA
CO2 Emissions Per Capita Washington, DC Texas 18 EIA
Energy Efficiency MA/CA (tied) North Dakoa 33 ACEEE
Energy Efficiency New York South Carolina 35 Wallet Hub
Home Energy Efficiency Utah Louisiana 36 Wallet Hub
Car Energy Efficiency New York North Dakota 31 Wallet Hub
Worst Industrial Pollution  Ohio 14 World Atlas
Toxic Chemical Releases Rhode Island Alaska 20 Scorecard
Renewable Energy Leaders Oregon Smart Asset
Clean Energy Momentum California Union of Concerned Scientists
Greenest States Vermont Wyoming 31 Wallet Hub
Environmental quality Vermont Montana 46 Wallet Hub
Eco-Friendly Behaviors Oregon Louisiana 39 Wallet Hub
Climate-Change Contributions Delaware Montana 15 Wallet Hub



While some of these are straightforward quantitative measures, many are real analytical efforts seeking to have open methodologies (enabling repeatability & long-term trend analysis) with real associated metrics.

The Union of Concerned Scientist’s April 2017 report Clean Energy Momentum: Ranking State Progress is a quite interesting report.

Our easy-to-understand ranking uses 12 metrics in three broad areas to gauge state leadership.

  • Technical progress: How much of a state’s electricity generation is based on renewable energy and how quickly has that changed in recent years? How much electricity are state utility programs saving, and how strong are electric vehicle sales?
  • Direct, visible effects on our daily lives: How many jobs has clean energy created in each state? How much has it reduced pollution from power plants?
  • Policies to build the momentum for the future: How much progress has a state made on policies to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency, and carbon reduction?

The UCS analysis identifies clear leaders among the 50 states

As can be seen in the graphic above, the UCUSA analysis does not find Virginia in the top 10 states in “clean energy moment” (nor, actually, even worth mention in its 24 pages).

The Wallet Hub analysis of ‘greenest states’, for example, results in a ranking states overall (Virginia 31) and, as components. on their ‘environmental quality (Virginia 46), eco-friendly behaviors (Virginia 39), and climate change contributions (Virginia 15). As per their methodology, this is how they derived each category and then the overall score.

Environmental Quality – Total Points: 35

  • Total Municipal Solid Waste per Capita: Full Weight (~7.00 Points)
  • Air Quality: Full Weight (~7.00 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the average exposure of the general public to particulate matter of 2.5 microns (PM2.5) or less in size.
  • Water Quality: Full Weight (~7.00 Points)
  • Soil Quality: Full Weight (~7.00 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the median soil pH level.
  • Energy-Efficiency Score: Full Weight (~7.00 Points)

Eco-Friendly Behaviors – Total Points: 35

  • Green Buildings: Full Weight (~3.18 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the number of LEED-certified buildings per capita.
  • Total Capacity of Solar PV Systems Installed per Household: Full Weight (~3.18 Points)
    Note: “PV” is an acronym for photovoltaic.
  • Share of Energy Consumption from Renewable Sources: Full Weight (~3.18 Points)
  • Energy Consumption per Capita: Full Weight (~3.18 Points)
  • Gasoline Consumption (in Gallons) per Capita: Full Weight (~3.18 Points)
  • Daily Water Consumption per Capita: Full Weight (~3.18 Points)
  • Alternative-Fuel Vehicles per Capita: Full Weight (~3.18 Points)
    Note: Energy Information Administration (EIA) provides data for the number of alternative-fuel vehicles for these four fleets only: federal government agencies, state government agencies, transit agencies and fuel providers.
  • Alternative-Fuel Stations per Capita: Full Weight (~3.18 Points)
  • Green Transportation: Full Weight (~3.18 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the percentage of the population who walk, bike, carpool, take public transportation or work from home.
  • Average Commute Time by Car: Full Weight (~3.18 Points)
  • Share of Recycled Municipal Solid Waste: Full Weight (~3.18 Points)

Climate-Change Contributions – Total Points: 30

  • Carbon-Dioxide Emissions per Capita: Full Weight (~7.50 Points)

  • Methane Emissions per Capita: Full Weight (~7.50 Points)

  • Nitrous-Oxide Emissions per Capita: Full Weight (~7.50 Points)

  • Fluorinated Greenhouse-Gas Emissions per Capita: Full Weight (~7.50 Points)

Governor McAuliffee tweeted that his recent executive order would “keep VA #1 on climate issues”. A simple question: by what measure?

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Tags: Energy

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 John Egan // May 22, 2017 at 7:33 am

    Least green state – Wyoming
    Hmmmm, that’s interesting.

    I’ll take Wyoming any day over northern Virginia.
    And twice on Sundays.



    Well, your issue is with how they ‘rank’ … and, well, one can find places in both Wyoming & VA to love and/or hate (re that, for Wyoming, how about and …). This post, however, wasn’t an ‘attack’ on Wyoming but a reasonable logic path / approach to judge the Governor’s tweet.

  • 2 John Egan // May 22, 2017 at 7:34 am

  • 3 John Egan // May 22, 2017 at 7:54 am

    Those “Top Ten” lists are no better than “Top Ten Hollywood Stars”.

    Sigh. Take a look at the methodologies … some better than others … all illuminating … none conclusive or authoritative … nor is there a claim in my post as to that being the case …

    Especially with regard to allocation of end uses.

    In agreement. None of these is truly full life-cycle … with the implications of ‘import’ / ‘export’ pollution ..

    Much of China’s energy use come from manufacturing all those plastic goo-gaws that litter WalMarts all over America. Who should be allocated energy use, carbon, pollution that comes from plastic deck chairs?

    With summer approaching, 4 million visitors will come to Yellowstone National Park. Most will arrive by automobile, others will fly in and rent cars. (I have cycled Yellowstone on dozens of visits.) Who gets allocated all those gallons of gasoline? All the food shipped? All the heating, air conditioning, electricity?

    So, who gets allocated all the Dulles airport pollution for passengers who are just connecting flights there or whose destinations are Maryland/VA/WVA/other …?)

    Production of energy is energy intensive, as well – even construction of solar and wind facilities. Hydro Quebec has devastated traditional lands of Northern Cree peoples. The Northeast gets the lion’s share of the electricity and preaches that it is “green” energy. The artisan bread that someone bought this morning on Dupont Circle was made with grain grown in Nebraska by energy-intensive industrial agriculture. The energy inputs are charged off against Nebraska, but the consumer in DC gloats.

    Back to Wyoming –
    Wyoming generates far more electricity than it consumes and produces far more fossil fuels than it consumes. There are certain practices that I oppose; however, it is far more complex than you set forth.

    Seriously, ‘than I set forth’ … all I did was provide some examples of ways to judge the question raised by the Governor’s tweet assertion. No claim in that post, or here, that any of those are perfect. They do, however, provide a window to substantively laying down that the assertion was political hyperbole (greenwashing if you will) rather than substance back by data/analysis.