Earth Day is the perfect time to celebrate the positive steps that some states are taking to preserve the environment. This year, the theme for Earth Day is “A Billion Acts of Green.” The idea highlights the fact that many small acts can make a significant difference to the environment.

Last year, 24/7 Wall St. analyzed the environmental issues facing the each state. In observance of Earth Day, the rankings have been updated to reflect the most recent data.

24/7 Wall St. examined energy consumption, pollution problems and state energy policies. The most recent information, issued in 2009 and 2010, was used for all states. Thousands of data points were collected to determine the most and least “green” states.

Below are the ten greenest states in the 24/7 Wall St. ranking, based on environmental problems and how effectively these problems are addressed.

10. Colorado

Population: 5,024,748 (22nd)
GDP: $252.6 Billion (19th)
Toxic Waste: 41,532 Tons (19th)
Carbon Footprint: 98.1 Million Metric Tons (27th)
Alternative Energy: 10.0% (14th)

Colorado benefits in ranking from above-average pollution scores, scoring sixth best for birth-defect inducing toxins and carcinogenic chemicals released into waterways. Colorado also ranks 12th in particle pollution. The “Centennial State” has very good policy scores, ranking seventh for energy saving targets, according to ACEEE’s assesment. More than 6% of Colorado’s total energy output is from alternative resources, the eighth best rating in the country.

9. Oregon

Population: 3,825,657 (27th)
GDP: $165.6 Billion (26th)
Toxic Waste: 61,876 Tons (23rd)
Carbon Footprint: 43.5 Million Metric Tons (10th)
Alternative Energy: 63.4% (3rd)

Oregon ranks in the middle third for all of our pollution metrics, including 29th in EPA toxic waste violations and 33rd in toxic exposure, according to the RSEI index. On the other hand, Oregon does exceptionally well both in policy and alternative energy. In the Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s list of state energy-saving programs, Oregon has the second-most, behind only California. The state also produces the second-most hydroelectric energy, and the eighth most non-hydroelectric alternative energy, mostly from state wind farms.

8. Idaho

Population: 1,545,801 (39th)
GDP: $54 Billion (42nd)
Toxic Waste: 4,808 Tons (9th)
Carbon Footprint: 16.2 Million Metric Tons (4th)
Alternative Energy: 84.5% (1st)

Idaho generates the greatest relative amount of renewable energy in the country, with 84.5% of all energy coming from alternative sources. “The Gem State” also ranks fifth for producing geothermal energy thanks to its unique terrain, and sixth for conventional hydroelectric power, thanks to the Snake River Plain and the state’s smaller rivers. Furthermore, the state has the fourth lowest rate of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. This is largely the result of the state’s extensive use of renewable energy.

7. Montana

Population: 974,989 (44th)
GDP: $35 Billion (48th)
Toxic Waste: 37,758 Tons (17th)
Carbon Footprint: 37.7 Million Metric Tons (9th)
Alternative Energy: 36.5% (6th)

Montana is unofficially nicknamed “Big Sky Country.” It is understandable that residents would be proud of their air, as it is tied for the lowest rate of ozone particulates in the nation, according to the American Lung Association. The state also ranks well in many other categories. It ranks seventh for total energy used, however this is largely the result of the state’s relatively low population density, the third lowest in the country.

6. South Dakota

Population: 812,383 (46th)
GDP: $38.3 Billion (46th)
Toxic Waste: 1,214 Tons (2nd)
Carbon Footprint: 13.7 Million Metric Tons (3rd)
Alternative Energy: 44.3% (5th)

South Dakota has the fifth-lowest population in the country and, along with that, its pollution is relatively low. The home of Mount Rushmore has only had 14 EPA violations since 2000, far and away the fewest in the nation. It also generated roughly 1,200 tons of hazardous waste last year, which is the second-lowest amount in the country, behind only Hawaii. South Dakota only produced 13.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the third-lowest in the country. South Dakota is above average – but not stellar – in terms of public policy, but it does rank fourth in the state utility alternative energy savings with a target of 10% by 2015.

5. Hawaii

Population: 1,295,178 (42nd)
GDP: $66.4 Billion (38th)
Toxic Waste: 987 Tons (1st)
Carbon Footprint: 24.1 Million Metric Tons (8th)
Alternative Energy: 7.6% (19th)

Since nearly 25% of Hawaii’s gross state product comes from tourism, the state is quite concerned about the environment. Hawaii produces the least amount of toxic waste and received the highest score for two air quality measurements: the EPA’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators toxic exposure rank and the American Lung Association’s ozone pollution index. The state also ranks sixth in energy saving programs and policies.

4. Nevada

Population: 2,643,085 (35th)
GDP: $126.5 Billion (31st)
Toxic Waste: 11,143 Tons (10th)
Carbon Footprint: 41.6 Million Metric Tons (12th)
Alternative Energy: 9.4% (16th)

Nevada has the lowest level of water pollution in the country because the generally arid state has very little fresh water to dump toxins into. The “Silver State” scores well in alternative energy production, with the second-highest production of solar photovoltaic and geothermal energy. Despite its low pollution levels and alternative energy scores, the state is only above average in policy initiatives.

3. New Hampshire

Population: 1,324,575 (40th)
GDP: $59.4 Billion (41st)
Toxic Waste: 4,538 Tons (8th)
Carbon Footprint: 19 Million Metric Tons (6th)
Alternative Energy: 12.3% (11th)

New Hampshire has extremely low pollution. The state has the fourth lowest level of harmful particle pollution in the country, according to the American Lung Association, and ranks fifth best with regards to toxic exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators model. New Hampshire has the fourth lowest level of developmental toxins released into its waterways, the fifth lowest level of releases of reproductive toxins and the fifth lowest level of cancer-causing chemicals released.

2. Maine

Population: 1,318,301 (41st)
GDP: $51.2 Billion (43rd)
Toxic Waste: 3,687 Tons (6th)
Carbon Footprint: 19.9 Million Metric Tons (7th)
Alternative Energy: 49.8% (4th)

Almost half of the electricity generated by Maine comes from renewable sources. The state has the largest percentage of its total energy produced coming from non-hydroelectric renewable sources, a total of 23.7%. Since the state has the highest percentage of timberland in the country, it is not surprising that a large portion of its energy comes from wood and wood waste.

1. Vermont

Population: 621,760 (49th)
GDP: $25.4 Billion (50th)
Toxic Waste: 1,536 Tons (3rd)
Carbon Footprint: 6.4 Million Metric Tons (1st)
Alternative Energy: 28.1% (7th)

Vermont has the second smallest population and the lowest GDP in the country. As a result, it produces less pollution than most states. The state releases the fewest carcinogenic toxins and has the smallest carbon footprint in the country. Vermont’s success as a green state isn’t limited to pollution, however: the “Green Mountain State” ranks in the top 15 in 20 out of 28 ranked categories. Vermont has a number of policies to promote efficiency, alternative energy, and reduce pollution, and so far it has succeeded better than any other state.

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