How close is America to eliminating all fossil fuels and emissions?

Published on February 26th 2019

The Green New Deal has been a hot topic in the political world since the 2018 midterm elections, built around an agenda to transform American energy and infrastructure while addressing employment, social, and environmental issues.

In February, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a resolution aimed at recognizing “the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal“. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said there will be a vote on the nonbinding resolution.

The resolution is a response to both a United Nations group and a federal program known as the U.S. Global Change Research Program that describe economic and environmental issues that would worsen if global temperatures continue to rise.

At the center of the Green New Deal is a move to rebuild American infrastructure “by eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible” and “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”

Here’s where the United States stands on both of the power and emissions fronts.

Emissions by state

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States was responsible for 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, compared with China, which was responsible for 30 percent.

In 2007, American carbon dioxide emissions peaked at 5.9 billion metric tons, the equivalent of 1.2 billion passenger cars in a given year.

That number dropped to 5.2 billion, a 12.8 percent drop, in 2017, largely driven by a decrease in emissions related to electric power. While electric power was the sector most responsible for emissions through 2015, as of 2016, the transportation sector is the leading driver of emissions in the US.

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The graph below shows data collected by the Department of Energy between 1980 to 2016, breaking down CO2 emissions by sector: residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, and electric power.

Emissions by state across sectors, 1980-2016

Nationally, there were 15.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per resident in 2016. But that figure varies by state.

While large states like Texas, California, and Florida contribute the most emissions nationwide, Wyoming (104 metric tons per capita), North Dakota (71.8), and West Virginia (51.6) have the highest emissions per person. Among states, New York has the lowest emissions per capita at 8.3 metric tons per person, followed by California, Oregon, and Rhode Island, which were between 9.2 and 9.3 metric tons per person.

Transportation is responsible for 5.9 metric tons of emissions per person while electric power is responsible for 5.6 metric tons per person.

Energy production by state

In 2007, 72 percent of America’s power supply was provided by fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and petroleum. Renewable sources — solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and biomass — provided 7.5 percent.

As of 2017, the percentage of power coming from fossil fuels stood at 65.7 percent. Renewables were responsible for 14 percent, largely driven by a jump in wind energy, which rose from less than 1 percent of the nation’s power production in 2007 to 5.6 percent in 2017. Solar power also saw its share grow 90 times higher than in 2007, largely driven by subsidies during the Obama administration, but is only responsible for 0.9 percent of power as of 2017.

The graph below shows power sources across the states since 1990.

Sources of power production by state, 1990-2017

Until 2015, coal was the leading provider of power in the US, until natural gas took over that spot in 2016. West Virginia leads all states in its share of coal-based power generation at 93.5 percent.

Five states — Idaho, Vermont, Washington, South Dakota, and Oregon — and Washington, D.C., generate 70 percent or more of their power output from renewable sources.

Mississippi has the lowest share of renewable power production (about 0.1 percent) while three other states — Louisiana, Delaware, and Florida — have less than 2 percent.

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United States Energy Information Administration, State Carbon Dioxide Emissions Data

United States Energy Information Administration, Electricity - Detailed State Data

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