While Texas maintains a firm grip on the dubious title of the nation's most prolific industrial polluter, an environmental group's report Thursday found that wind power and other cleaner energy sources have helped cut emissions linked to global warming in the state.
Environment Texas analyzed the most recent U.S. Department of Energy statistics that show the state is still the leader in carbon-dioxide emissions but cut such pollution by 2 percent between 2004 and 2007. In that same four-year period, emissions around the country went up 0.7 percent and increased in 33 states, according to the report.
"We can drive the economy without driving up pollution," said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger. "By moving to clean energy, we can cut pollution, help jump-start the economy and create millions of new clean energy jobs around the country."
The group's analysis covered 2004-2007, but emissions in Texas actually began dropping in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Carbon dioxide emissions in the state have dropped 5 percent between 2002 and 2007.
Finding the balance between the environment and the economy is a constant struggle in Texas. The state relies heavily on the energy industry and has more coal-fired power plants, chemical plants and oil refineries than any other. And with a rapidly growing population, there's always need for more power.
Environment Texas, a citizen-funded environmental advocacy group, says less coal has been burned recently thanks to increased wind power, natural gas use and improved efficiency at power plants. Texas produces more wind power than any other state.
The state is not required to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, which come mostly from coal-fired plants and vehicles, but the climate bill pending in Congress calls for cuts of 20 percent for carbon dioxide polluters by 2020.
The report says Texas has the clean energy capacity to make those larger cuts and urges passage of the measure. The House version narrowly passed in June, and a similar version faces a tough fight in the Senate. Metzger said the report indicated that the 20 percent cuts were feasible and would not harm the economy "as the governor tries to suggest."
Gov. Rick Perry has been an outspoken critic of the climate legislation, saying it will do massive harm to Texas industry, but has been a big proponent of alternative energy.
"Texas is successfully fostering the next generation of energy technology and reducing real pollutants like ozone by using incentives and free markets, not by imposing job-killing regulations and taxes on our businesses," Perry spokesman Chris Cutrone said.
The Texas environmental agency, which also opposes the federal climate legislation, praised the Environment Texas report as proof the state's efforts to cut pollution are working.
"As we have said previously, if done incorrectly, CO2 regulations will impose great costs on Texas, without any guarantee of a measurable environmental benefit," said Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Chairman Bryan W. Shaw. "This report is an example of how Texas' policy of encouraging clean energy and new technologies result in reductions in pollution and other emissions, without heavy-handed regulations."
The other two TCEQ commissioners, who are appointed by Perry, also praised the report.
"These programs have resulted in cleaner air and reduced emissions of all kinds, without new regulations from Washington that are based on questionable science," commissioner Buddy Garcia said.
Texas' per capita emissions from electric generators fell by 4 percent from 2004-2007, the report said. Texas got 2.5 percent of its power from cleaner energy sources in 2007 and that figure has more doubled in the two years since, Metzger said.
After Texas, the biggest carbon dioxide polluters are California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Louisiana and Georgia.