coal plant

W. A. Parish Power Plant near Houston

By Bobby Magill
Climate Central

Everything is bigger in Texas. Its honky-tonks. Its highway system. Its wind power industry. Its oil industry. And even, a new report says, its carbon dioxide emissions.

Texas emitted more carbon dioxide from burning energy in 2013 than it did at any point since 2004. And, for at least the 24th year in a row, the Lone Star State tops the list of the nation’s biggest carbon polluters, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Data released this week by the administration shows each state’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2013. Texas doesn’t just top the list, its emissions — 641 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — are almost double those of California, the nation’s second largest carbon emitter, which spewed 353 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide emissions from burning energy — mainly coal, petroleum and natural gas — are the driving force behind climate change. Recent climate policies, such as the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, aim to force states to cut their emissions from electric power plants running on fossil fuels, the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions.

“The general trend is emissions are down and are stable,” EIA analyst Perry Lindstrom said.

Emissions fluctuate from year to year because recent warmer winters have prevented many residents from heating their homes as intensely in some parts of the country, lowering the energy demand, he said.

Renewables, including wind and solar, are also playing a bigger role in stabilizing carbon emissions, he said. And, natural gas use for electric power generation continues to gain ground on coal, displacing it three times so far in 2015 as the leading fuel used in electric power plants.

Despite a slight uptick between 2012 and 2013, overall U.S. carbon emissions — including emissions from vehicle tailpipes, pipelines, and industrial and other sources — are down about 11 percent from their 2005 peak at 5.94 billion metric tons to 5.28 billion metric tons in 2013, according to EIA data.

carbon dioxide

Energy-related emissions in 2013

Overall, 16 states saw decreases in emissions between 2012 and 2013, while 34 states released more carbon into the sky.

Some states show dramatic increases in emissions in recent years. That’s especially true in Nebraska, which has seen its emissions rise more than 61 percent since 1990. Most of the increase has occurred since 2010.

Lindstrom said two things are happening in Nebraska: Corn ethanol production has increased, requiring more natural gas, and two of the state’s nuclear reactors were temporarily shut down in 2013, requiring the state to use more coal to produce electricity.

Major fossil fuels-producing states also saw their carbon emissions climb in 2013.

Texas, the nation’s leading oil refiner and home to a shale oil and gas boom, saw a 4.5 percent jump in carbon emissions between 2012 and 2013 mainly because of the natural gas boom and gas pipeline construction, Lindstrom said.

Wyoming, a major oil, gas and coal producer, and North Dakota, the center of the Bakken shale oil boom, both emitted more carbon dioxide in 2013 than at any point since at least 1990.

Broken down per capita, Wyoming, the nation’s least-populous but one of its most geographically expansive and most fossil fuels-rich states, emits more carbon than any other state.

On the other end of the spectrum, the District of Columbia has seen the largest overall emissions decrease since 1990 — 36 percent — followed by Delaware, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland, which saw emissions declines of between 17 and 24 percent.

States emitting the least carbon dioxide overall are the District of Columbia, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware and New Hampshire — states that are heavily reliant on hydropower and natural gas, and, except for D.C., are members of the nation’s first cap-and-trade program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.


This article was originally published by Princeton, N.J.-based Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists researching and reporting on the science and impacts of climate change.

Image credits: Photo – Roy Luck / Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license. Chart – U.S. Energy Information Administration