The Top 3 Polluting States in America

By Markets Fool.com

When it comes to pollution, not all states are created equal. While some states maintain their clean and green image, others are digging deeper into dirty energy. A new government dataset lays out the latest carbon dioxide emissions numbers for all to see. Here are the top three polluting states in America.

Continue Reading Below

3. Pennsylvania

Source: Homercitygeneration.com; NRG Energy Inc.

When it comes to pollution, Pennsylvania snags third place, with 233 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 (most recent data). While the Marcellus Shale region makes this state a natural gas powerhouse, its emissions come from a dirtier culprit: coal. Within the state's industrial sector, coal accounts for nearly halfof all carbon dioxide emissions.

But it's the Liberty Bell State's addiction to coal-fired electric power that really ramps up pollution. Coal-fired power plants account for 80% of the state's electricity-related emissions, and over a third of its total carbon dioxide count. The state is home to one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the world, a 1,884 MW facility owned by NRG Energy Inc .

2. California

Continue Reading Below

Source: Tesla Motors.

So much for green and clean California. With 345 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to its name, the Golden State takes silver in this pollution push. Quite the opposite of Pennsylvania, coal accounts for just 1.1% of California's total emissions. In fact, the industrial sector and electric power sector emit just 18% and 14% of the state's carbon dioxide, respectively. Tesla Motors or not, it's transportation emissions that are California's dirty little secret.

Almost exclusively petroleum-based transportation emissions amount to a whopping 55% of the state's total carbon dioxide pollution. California has essentially always been the state leader on stricter fuel efficiencies and cleaner gasoline-- but does that just mean people drive more when they use less gas that's more environmentally friendly? The jury is out-- but the carbon dioxide emissions are, too.

1. Texas

Source: WikiMedia Commons; Eric Kounce.

Texas takes the carbon dioxide cake with 656 million metric tons emitted in 2012. The Lonestar State accounts for a whopping 13% of America's overall emissions. It should come as little surprise that petroleum products account for just under half of total emissions, with natural gas snagging about a third of the pollution, and coalsweeping up the rest. Texas is a big, hot, economic powerhouse, so it makes sense that emissions are spread fairly evenly across the transportation, industrial, and electric power sectors.

The numbers don't lie?
Pennsylvania, California, and Texas may be the top three polluting states in America, but that doesn't necessarily make them the worst offenders. There are other ways to evaluate emissions -- ways that may give us a more accurate idea of our nation's carbon culprits.

Since some states have fewer residents than others, examining emitted tons per capita gives us an idea of individual-level pollution. With less than a million residents each, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alaska are the largest per capita emitters in America. This hints at economics of scale and is testament to the irony that some of the most environmentally-friendly places to live may actually be alongside millions of others in densely populated cities.

But let's not forget that our economy matters, too. If we want to get serious about reducing pollutions and improving our economy, examining emissions against each state's GDP allows us to see where the dirtiest dollars come from. Wyoming and North Dakota take the top two spots again, with Louisiana grabbing bronze. California is a big emitter, but its massive economy drops it to 44thplace when considering GDP.

The state of our states' sustainability may never be clear. But as America addresses its emissions addiction, it's important to keep an eye on these indicators -- as both investors and informed citizens.

The article The Top 3 Polluting States in America originally appeared on Fool.com.

Justin Loiseau owns shares of Tesla Motors and often wonders whether air travel emissions are linked to departure locations or arrival locations-and if it really matters. The Motley Fool recommends Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of NRG Energy, and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.