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

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.

About the Author

W. E. Messamore
W. E. Messamore

An entrepreneurship major and graduate of Belmont University, Wes believes that small business, innovation, and creative thinking are required to solve problems and improve our world. One of America's growing number of Independents, Wes has never registered with any political party, but describes himself as a libertarian (note the lower-case "L") and holds individual liberty as a key ingredient of good public policy.

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18 comments
BradSkidmore
BradSkidmore

These millions in pollution fines go where exactly?  And where did the money come from to pay them?

bullington222
bullington222

it is disingenuous to say env. activists and EPA programs do not target govt and militarty sites. http://www.veteranstoday.com/2011/02/14/epas-superfund-websites-can-save-veterans-lives/ Also, it is wrong to suggest that the solution to govt pollution is to change the 'size, roll, and influence of government."

Once upon a time the white house had solar panels- installed by Carter, removed by Reagan. Obama installed solar in 2010. The prob. is the env. philosophy of our leaders, influenced by corporate connections. The solution involves policy shift, valuing the environment, encouraging sustainability through research and investment, and contracting with green businesses.

It is happening where people are focused on solutions, and not bound by dogmatic ideology. http://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/26002

Akumakai
Akumakai

The worst polluter is women. Simple economics. US Women are the largest consumers and cause secondary consumption. Personal female consumption combined with a males desire to provide and women's selfishness.

orcasislandtv
orcasislandtv

the Earths number one self-preservation economic act is to put Oil, Gas and Nuclear suppliers out of business as rapidly as possible. Total cost accounting for selling nuclear, gas and oil on the planet must attach the cost of recovering carbon from the burning of oil, gas and production of nuclear waste and its disposal. These costs will haunt investors today and tomorrow and for generations. We've sold out our children by offering Oil, Gas and Nuclear without a plan to recover the pollutants and someone sequester them.

The US Gov'mnt, has 350 million shareholders. Its by far one of the least pollution sources when you consider pollution per shareholder. Additionally, the shareholders in the US Government are responsible for the pollution and always have been. Private corporate polluters act as if US Government shareholders are responsible, not them. That public rip-off has to stop and will. At which point investors will need to re-evaluate the cost of producing oil and gas and nuclear waste in the economic equation. Its very bad news.

No, the US Government is one of the least polluting, per shareholder. Nearly any private business pollutes to a much higher extent, per shareholder.

John Fairfull
John Fairfull

So, I'm a "shareholder," in the government, huh? It's the only "company" that I'm a shareholder in where I get taken to jail if I don't "buy" my "shares." It's the only company where I can't sell my "shares." How about all the people who are net payees from the government? Are they shareholders? Have you ever thought about whether someone is a consumer of government rather than an investor? If so, then there aren't 350 million shareholders at all. If someone is a consumer, why do they get to vote? I don't get to vote on decisions that Wal-Mart makes just because I shop there. In what way do I hold shares in something if I can't see the shares or dispose of them? They don't exist.

Silly analogies like this and "we are the government," break down under scrutiny. When Hitler was executing Jews, were the Jews part of the government? I guess they committed suicide.

Bea2Jay
Bea2Jay

@John FairfullWhat a perfect response to the assertion we're shareholders. Were we shareholders, we could at the very least expect a return on our investment. If the government were indeed a business, it would attempt to operate at a profit and streamline itself for efficiency.

JeffBevis
JeffBevis

@orcasislandtv No, it is not.  This carbon mania is absolutely silly, and it's time to grow up and stop believing the carbon-crisis fairy tale.  95% of all "greenhouse gas' material is water vapor, and carbon dioxide generated by human activity accounts for less than one half of one percent of all "greenhouse gases".  The elimination of all human industry and energy production would have utterly no effect on the planet.  Therefore, persisting in this notion that we must radically alter our way of life to avert a climate catastrophe is clearly and evidently stupid.  By the way, nuclear power as it is done today IS dangerous and ill conceived.  But that does NOT mean all nuclear power is stupid.  Look up LFTR sometime and Kirk Sorenson's videos on the subject.  Even the inventor of today's basic nuclear fission reactor concept knew this, but government in its infinite wisdom forged ahead with Not The Best Plan for purely political reasons.

jen_ivn
jen_ivn

That is disappointing, people really need to know about this.

Ronald Williams
Ronald Williams

Good try Ward West, but you can't deflect responsibility for this because it's Americas problem no matter which party you are for.

Ward West
Ward West

Worst Polluter: Democrats (Billy Goats) ~ Senex Montis

George Manty
George Manty

I would have thought China or India because of their lack of regulations. I have to look this up for myself.

Barb Happ Zimmerman
Barb Happ Zimmerman

Worth reading, although probably most people won't. It's time we all sit up and take notice of all of the harm that our government is doing.

Kaitlin Kirkconnell
Kaitlin Kirkconnell

Sounds like a lot of reasonable evidence, but where's the comparison to other govenments and whatnot that shows its the worst. I don't doubt it, but I still am curious.

Bob Morris
Bob Morris

It's been going on a long time too. Jut ask any Downwinder in Utah.

Nuclear tests in Nevada in the 1950's were deliberately done when the wind was blowing into Utah upon a "low use segment of the population" as an internal memo at the time put it. One fatality was Utah governor Scott Matheson, exposed as a child, who died years later from an exotic type of cancer. His son, also a politician, believes his father died due to exposure to nuclear blast radiation.

After decades of governmental cover-ups and lies, President GW Bush granted the survivors compensation.

Matt Metzner
Matt Metzner

Completely underreported story. Thanks for sharing. We tend to hear more about sustainable energy projects by the military instead of consumption. This is a much bigger problem than many of us realize.

Leave a Comment
  1. bullington222 it is disingenuous to say env. activists and EPA programs do not target govt and militarty sites. http://www.veteranstoday.com/2011/02/14/epas-superfund-websites-can-save-veterans-lives/ Also, it is wrong to suggest that the solution to govt pollution is to change the 'size, roll, and influence of government." Once upon a time the white house had solar panels- installed by Carter, removed by Reagan. Obama installed solar in 2010. The prob. is the env. philosophy of our leaders, influenced by corporate connections. The solution involves policy shift, valuing the environment, encouraging sustainability through research and investment, and contracting with green businesses. It is happening where people are focused on solutions, and not bound by dogmatic ideology. http://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/26002
  2. Akumakai The worst polluter is women. Simple economics. US Women are the largest consumers and cause secondary consumption. Personal female consumption combined with a males desire to provide and women's selfishness.
  3. JeffBevis @orcasislandtv No, it is not.  This carbon mania is absolutely silly, and it's time to grow up and stop believing the carbon-crisis fairy tale.  95% of all "greenhouse gas' material is water vapor, and carbon dioxide generated by human activity accounts for less than one half of one percent of all "greenhouse gases".  The elimination of all human industry and energy production would have utterly no effect on the planet.  Therefore, persisting in this notion that we must radically alter our way of life to avert a climate catastrophe is clearly and evidently stupid.  By the way, nuclear power as it is done today IS dangerous and ill conceived.  But that does NOT mean all nuclear power is stupid.  Look up LFTR sometime and Kirk Sorenson's videos on the subject.  Even the inventor of today's basic nuclear fission reactor concept knew this, but government in its infinite wisdom forged ahead with Not The Best Plan for purely political reasons.
  4. Bea2Jay @John FairfullWhat a perfect response to the assertion we're shareholders. Were we shareholders, we could at the very least expect a return on our investment. If the government were indeed a business, it would attempt to operate at a profit and streamline itself for efficiency.
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  6. orcasislandtv the Earths number one self-preservation economic act is to put Oil, Gas and Nuclear suppliers out of business as rapidly as possible. Total cost accounting for selling nuclear, gas and oil on the planet must attach the cost of recovering carbon from the burning of oil, gas and production of nuclear waste and its disposal. These costs will haunt investors today and tomorrow and for generations. We've sold out our children by offering Oil, Gas and Nuclear without a plan to recover the pollutants and someone sequester them. The US Gov'mnt, has 350 million shareholders. Its by far one of the least pollution sources when you consider pollution per shareholder. Additionally, the shareholders in the US Government are responsible for the pollution and always have been. Private corporate polluters act as if US Government shareholders are responsible, not them. That public rip-off has to stop and will. At which point investors will need to re-evaluate the cost of producing oil and gas and nuclear waste in the economic equation. Its very bad news. No, the US Government is one of the least polluting, per shareholder. Nearly any private business pollutes to a much higher extent, per shareholder.
  7. John Fairfull So, I'm a "shareholder," in the government, huh? It's the only "company" that I'm a shareholder in where I get taken to jail if I don't "buy" my "shares." It's the only company where I can't sell my "shares." How about all the people who are net payees from the government? Are they shareholders? Have you ever thought about whether someone is a consumer of government rather than an investor? If so, then there aren't 350 million shareholders at all. If someone is a consumer, why do they get to vote? I don't get to vote on decisions that Wal-Mart makes just because I shop there. In what way do I hold shares in something if I can't see the shares or dispose of them? They don't exist. Silly analogies like this and "we are the government," break down under scrutiny. When Hitler was executing Jews, were the Jews part of the government? I guess they committed suicide.
  8. Independent Voters of America Methane from cow flatulence?
  9. jen_ivn That is disappointing, people really need to know about this.
  10. Ronald Williams Good try Ward West, but you can't deflect responsibility for this because it's Americas problem no matter which party you are for.