New York: America’s Low Carbon Leader

Posted: April 30, 2013

When it comes to carbon emissions, the rest of the country could learn a great deal from New York, which has the lowest carbon dioxide emissions per capita of any state. New York is a large state and emits 172.8 million metric tons of carbon annually. However, New York’s per-capita carbon output is nearly 60 percent lower than the national average.

The New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York AREA) calculated each state’s per capita emissions using the most recent data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and dividing it by U.S. Census Bureau figures (Table 1). New Yorkers emit, on average, 8.97 metric tons per capita annually versus the national average of 22.10. A metric ton is 2,206 pounds.

Table 1

Several factors contribute to New York having the lowest per capita carbon emissions rate in the United States.

First, New York has one of the country’s cleanest electric generation portfolios. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), about 53 percent of New York’s electricity comes from sources which emit zero to virtually zero carbon, versus 30 percent for the national average (Table 2).[1]

Specifically, New York obtains 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power versus 19 percent for the rest of the country. Coal, the highest carbon power source, accounts for 45 percent of the country’s electricity portfolio but less than 10 percent of New York’s. Clean, nearly zero-emitting hydro power accounts for 23 percent of the state’s portfolio, compared with 7 percent for the country as a whole. New York gets 4 percent from other renewables like wind and solar, compared with 3 percent for other states.[2]


A second advantage is the widespread use of mass transit in New York City, resulting in reduced use of automobiles and significant reductions in carbon emissions. A typical gasoline powered car emits six tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions. As electric cars become more widely used, it will be critical that such cars are powered by clean sources of electricity, because electric cars are only as clean as the source of power use to charge them.

As New York looks to further reduce carbon emissions, the first goal must be to do no harm. For example, calls to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which on a typical day provides 25 percent or more of New York City’s electricity[4] and plays a major role in powering the mass transit system, are a significant threat to the state’s low carbon leadership. Numerous independent studies commissioned show the loss of Indian Point would result in exponential increases in emissions of carbon and other toxic greenhouse gases.[5]

A 2011 study from the prestigious consulting firm Charles River Associates which was commissioned by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection determined the loss of Indian Point would lead to a 15% increase in carbon emission and a 7-8% increase in nitrous oxide emissions. These finding were affirmed by a September 2012 report issued by the Business Council of Westchester which determined that without Indian Point, carbon emissions would increase by more than six million tons annually – the equivalent of adding 1 million more vehicles on our roads.

To meet New York’s increasing energy demands and maintain a low-carbon profile, New York must secure and support existing sources of clean, baseload power and upgrade the electric transmission system to access power generated across the state. These efforts, combined with a diverse power portfolio including renewables, hydro, nuclear, natural gas, and clean coal, will ensure that New York continues to lead the way to a low-carbon, sustainable energy future.

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The per capita emissions by state were calculated using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent information about state emissions, “CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuel Combustion – Million Metric Tons CO2.”  The data are available from the following link:

The most recent census data estimates are from the U.S. Census Bureau pertaining to April 1, 2010, were obtained from:


About New York AREA:  Founded in November 2003, the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York AREA) is a diverse group of more than 150 business, labor, and community groups whose mission and purpose is to ensure that New York metropolitan area has an ample and reliable electricity supply, and economic prosperity for years to come. New York AREA helps to educate policy makers, businesses, and the general public regarding the necessity and importance of safe, low-cost, reliable, clean electricity.

For additional information visit

[1] US Energy Information Administration, “Net Generation by Energy Source,” Electric Power Annual 2011, January 2013,

[2] IBID

[3] IBID

[4] Rick Gonzalez, “Written Testimony of Rick Gonzales, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO),” New York State Assembly Joint Public Hearing on the Potential Closure of Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC), January 12, 2012, p. 3,

[5] Charles River Associates and New York City Department of Environmental Protection, “Indian Point Energy Center Retirement Analysis,” August 2, 2011, pp. 13-14,

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