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The Number One Worst Polluter on Earth Is… The U.S. Federal Government

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With Earth Day coming up this weekend, it might be helpful to remember that the worst polluter on planet Earth is not a major corporation, but the United States federal government, and if we’re going to be serious about reducing our impact on the environment, we need to advocate for less, not more government.

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Indeed, the federal government is the single largest consumer of energy with 500,000 buildings and 600,000 vehicles. In 2009 alone, the government’s bill for utilities and fuel totaled $24 billion, so it’s no surprise that the government’s carbon footprint is 123.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.

State and local governments are also among the nation’s worst polluters. In Georgia for example, an investigation just last November found that the state and county governments are Georgia’s worst polluters. In fact, over the last decade, dozens of county governments have racked up a total of more than $14 million in pollution fines and the state government itself is a major hazard to the environment too, with the Georgia Department of Transportation and its contractors alone racking up $1.3 million in pollution fines.

Yet even as awful as many state and local governments throughout the country are, the federal government is still by far, the worst polluter. And despite never-ending plans, promises, and programs from every administration to get its polluting under control (remember the Environmental Protection Agency was started over 40 years ago in 1970– by a Republican) the pollution just keeps getting worse with no end in sight.

This could be in part because military spending and activity, especially after 9-11,  just keeps expanding with no end in sight. While the federal government is the world’s worst polluter, the Department of Defense alone actually pollutes more than the rest of the federal government combined. Yet environmentalist activism directed against the government’s pollution is virtually nonexistent.

As ProjectCensored.org reported last year:

“The US military is responsible for the most egregious and widespread pollution of the planet, yet this information and accompanying documentation goes almost entirely unreported. In spite of the evidence, the environmental impact of the US military goes largely unaddressed by environmental organizations and was not the focus of any discussions or proposed restrictions at the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. This impact includes uninhibited use of fossil fuels, massive creation of greenhouse gases, and extensive release of radioactive and chemical contaminants into the air, water, and soil.”

Over the last decade, dozens of county governments have racked up a total of more than $14 million in pollution fines
W.E. Messamore
In 2005, Lucinda Marshall, founder of the Feminist Peace Network, wrote that the U.S. Department of Defense produces more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined. From cancer-causing depleted uranium ammunition and armor, to perchlorate rocket fuel leaking from literally hundreds of military plants and installations into the groundwater of 35 states, to the military’s unquenchable thirst for fossil fuels– the Department of Defense is polluting our environment more than anyone else.

This year on Earth Day, instead of giving the government a free pass on pollution while it polices the rest of our polluting, environmentalists should demand that we start where the problem is worst, that we start by cutting back the government‘s polluting, and not with more phony promises, plans, and programs that never change anything, but by cutting back the size, role, and influence of government itself.

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