MagazineJuly 2006Southern Scorecard

Southern Scorecard

What is the state of the Southern states when it comes to protecting public health and the environment? We’ve compiled a handy report card grading each based on the environmental programs and legislation they have in place:

MARYLAND: It’s the first state in the country to sign on to the Million Solar Roofs initiative, offering grants to homeowners for installing renewable water heater and electricity systems. The people are eco-conscious, too. Although the state ranks 19th in population, it has the fifth largest number of registered hybrid vehicle owners. The state’s Chesapeake Bay Restoration program is ambitious but lacks enforcement and adequate financing. GRADE: A-

VIRGINIA: It was the first state in the country to petition the federal government to reinstate roadless area protection in national forests. Protection of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and James River have been promising but not fully funded. Recently, the state mandated that clean burning ethanol replace the toxic chemical MTBE used in gasoline to further improve air quality. Dozens of coal-fired power plants are slated for construction to accommodate the Commonwealth's burgeoning population, which will only worsen Virginia's already-miserable air quality. GRADE: B

NORTH CAROLINA: North Carolina boasts the strongest state clean air legislation in the Southeast, and Attorney General Roy Cooper recently filed suit against the EPA for weakening federal air quality standards. However, the Smokies remain the nation's most poullted national park because of air pollution from neighboring states. Hog farms in the Carolina piedmont pose serious water pollution problems, and unchecked urban sprawl around Charlotte, Greensboro, and Raleigh-Durham are obliterating forests and farms. GRADE: B-

SOUTH CAROLINA: The state’s has managed coastal development better than most, but it has offered few state legislative initiatives to tackle air and water pollution or urban sprawl. It joined Virginia and North Carolina in petitioning for protection of roadless areas in national forests. GRADE: B-

TENNESSEE: In 2005 Governor Bredesen established the Heritage Conservation Trust Act to protect more public lands in the Volunteer State. Tennessee also recently established an alternative fuels working group tasked with creating a strategy to increase the state’s use of renewable fuels. The Buffalo Mountain Wind Farm is a promising step, but the air and water pollution spewing from the Tennessee Valley Authority's coal-burning power plants far outweighs the state's lip service to renewables. GRADE: C

WEST VIRGINIA: West Virginia has some of the best wildlands and whitewater rivers in the country, but the state is still marred by the practice of mountaintop removal mining, which levels forested mountains, triggers mudslides, and dumps toxic sludge into waterways. King Coal still rules the Mountain State, but if the mining monarch is ever de-throned, West Virginia could quickly become a crown jewel of outdoor recreation and tourism, which produce far more jobs and economic growth than the mining industry. GRADE: D-

Georgia: Georgia has the longest commute times of any state in the Southeast, and the Georgia Regional Transportation authority has made only modest investments in MARTA and other public transit options. 56% of Georgia's waterways are impaired, including the open sewage ditch known as the Chattahoochee River. Atlanta is the fastest sprawling civilization in human history (really), and despite lots of talk about “smart growth,” the state has done little to rein in rampant overdevelopment. In Georgia, your chances of getting cancer from air pollution are an astonishing one in 1,530-the worst state in our region. GRADE: F

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