Study disproves "jobs vs. environment" myth

States ranked on economic & environmental health

provided by the Institute for Southern Studies

tates with the best environmental records also offer the best job opportunities and climate for long-term economic development. That's the conclusion of a study released last month by the Institute for Southern Studies, a nonprofit research center in Durham, North Carolina.

"In the 2000 elections, political leaders were still debating about whether protecting the environment will cost jobs," says Chris Kromm, a coauthor of the report and Director of the Institute. "What this study finds is that the trade-off myth is untrue. At the state policy level, efforts to promote a healthy environment and a sound economy go hand-in-hand."

The study, entitled Gold and Green 2000, uses two separate lists of indicators to evaluate each state's economic performance, and the stresses on the natural environment. The 20 economic indicators include annual pay, job opportunities, business start-ups, and workplace injury rates; the 20 environmental measures range from toxic emissions and pesticide use, to energy consumption and urban sprawl. [For complete results, please visit] Keith Ernst, J.D., Research Director at the Institute, Chris Kromm, Director of the Institute, and Jaffer Battica, a research associate, were the other coauthors.

The report ranks states on each indicator, and the sum of ranks produces a state's final score. Comparing the two lists reveals remarkable correlations:


  • Seven states rank in the top 15 for both economic and environmental health. Vermont, Rhode Island and Minnesota rank in the top six on both lists. Other "top performers" with high marks on both scales are Colorado, Maryland, Maine, and Wisconsin.
  • Conversely, 10 states -- mostly in the South re among the worst 15 on both lists. For example, Louisiana ranks 48th on economic performance and 50th on the environment. Others in the cellar are: Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Indiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, and South Carolina.

California ranks high with a Green Rank of 10, but with a low economic Gold Rank of 36. Our Gold Rank in 1994 was 19 and the Green was 13. (Note: rankings range from 1-50 in each category).

Gold and Green 2000 is an updated version of a similar study authored by the Institute in 1994. The original study had similar findings, and the authors observe that comparisons of the 1994 and 2000 reports offer a useful yardstick for gauging which states are improving -- or falling behind on their environmental and economic records. For example:


  • While there was some jockeying among "bottom performers" -- those ranking in the lower 15 on both environmental and economic scales ince the 1994 edition of the study, only two states managed to escape from the bottom of the barrel in 2000: Ohio and Oklahoma.
  • Since 1994, the list of environmental and economic "top performers" -- those with high environmental and economic scores as seen more turnover, with Rhode Island and Maine adding themselves to the honor role. While New Hampshire and Massachusetts continue to post strong economic numbers, greater environmental threats removed them from the top of the list.

Similarly, the strong environmental records of Hawaii and Oregon could not offset these states' subpar economic performance. "Now we have two similar studies that point to the same conclusion: states can have a strong economy and protect the environment," coauthor Ernst says. "And states that sacrifice their natural resources for quick-fix development aren't improving their long-term economic prospects."

The study comes at a time when battles have broken out over the supposed conflict between jobs and the environment. For example, in June of this year, national African-American and Latino labor leaders released a widely-reported study -- commissioned by the coal industry-backed Center for Energy and Economic Development -- opposing the Kyoto global climate treaty due to a perceived threat to "Black and Hispanic jobs." Across the country, local conflicts have pitted environmentalists against logging businesses, chemical companies, and other industries, who in turn raise the specter of job losses due to environmental standards.

But Gold and Green 2000 joins a growing chorus of experts who argue that, while businesses may invoke the "jobs versus the environment" trade-off to resist regulation, the myth is unfounded. For one, environmental regulation comes at a small cost.

"Even in the most highly regulated industries, the cost tops out at two to three percent of total operating costs," says Dr. James Barrett, environmental economist at the D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute. "Clearly, when industry says its going to shut down or move, it's not the environmental laws that are causing this."

Barrett also observes that steps can easily be taken to prevent economic dislocation. When environmental standards do impact industry -- most frequently, companies that are already in decline the answer is not to prolong the life of polluting or unsustainable businesses, but to ensure a "just transition" of workers to new jobs.

"Many people are talking about 'just transition' today, but there's been little effort to devise policies that work," Barrett says. As a model, he points to the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, enacted in the 1960s and designed to assist workers laid off due to trade agreements. The Act has been little-used by workers, mostly because it provides no income support to supplement the training it offers to employees seeking new jobs -- an oversight that could be easily fixed.

"This study shows that sustainable development is a matter of political will," says Kromm of the Institute. "States that protect their natural resources also cherish their human resources. And states seeking quick-fix, unsustainable development end up sacrificing both workers and the environment."

Founded in 1970, the Institute for Southern Studies is a nonprofit research, education and publishing center dedicated to constructive change in the region. The Institute flagship journal, Southern Exposure, has earned a national reputation for its coverage of politics and culture, and is a winner of the National Magazine Award, George Polk Award, among other honors.

For final Gold and Green rankings, state-by-state profiles, and annotated sources, please visit