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Do greenhouse gas-emitting industries create jobs?

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The EPA's database of greenhouse gas emissions allows users to dig down and do a little local-level gumshoeing and analysis. Here's a look at unemployment numbers in areas with the highest emissions.

The EPA's newly released database of greenhouse gas emissions not only provides a broad view of the country's biggest polluters, it, more importantly, allows users to dig down and do a little local-level gumshoeing and analysis.

For example, yesterday Politico's Morning Energy team went on a cursory fact-finding mission to find out if greenhouse gas-emitting industries create jobs -- the go-to argument of anti-EPA regulation folks. The reporters found the unemployment rates in the five worst-emitting ZIP codes were typically higher than the national average. So much for the regulations-kill-jobs argument, right? Not exactly.

I was inspired to see if their initial conclusion would bear out if I took the experiment a little further. Using the database, I pinpointed the top 10 biggest-emitting facilities in the U.S., all of which are power plants. From there, I looked at the unemployment rates of the ZIP code where the facilities were located.  I used 2010 unemployment figures from the U.S. Department of Labor and zipdatamaps to align with the emissions data from the EPA.

The results are mixed. But interesting nonetheless. Numerous facilities are in zip codes that have unemployment rates far above the national average, which was 9.6 percent in 2010. I also included a U.S. map that illustrates county unemployment rates.  I noticed some of the counties with the highest emissions also had high unemployment. But it wasn't always the case.

For example, Texas reported the highest emissions, according to the 2010 EPA data. The two highest-emitting counties were Harris, which had an 8.3 percent unemployment rate, and Titus with 7.5 percent unemployment in 2010. Indiana came in at the No. 2 spot. The state had a 10.2 percent unemployment rate in 2010. The top two emitting counties in Indiana told two different stores. Lake County, which reported 29 million metric tons of emissions, had 12 percent unemployment in 2010. Gibson, which reported 18 million metric tons of emissions, had 7.1 percent.

Facility Location

Zip code

Emissions (million metric tons)

Unemployment rate*

Scherer Juliette, GA

31046

22.9

10.54%

Bowen Cartersville, GA

30120

21.02

11.52%

James H. Miller Jr. Quinton, AL

35130

20.75

9.1%

Martin Lake Tatum, TX

75691

18.7

7.48%

Gibson Owensville, IN

47665

17.99

8.36%

Monroe Monroe, MI

48161

17.85

10.62%

Colstrip Colstrip, MT

59323

17.1

6.74%

Gen. Jim Gavin Cheshire, OH

45620

16.8

11.73%

Labadie Labadie, MO

63055

17.36

8.11%

Rockport Rockport, IN

47635

16.66

8.3%

*Unofficial unemployment rates from zipdatamaps; to remain consistent with the 2010 emissions data, the unemployment figures also are from 2010.

I'd encourage SmartPlanet readers to do some of their own digging. I plan to do more on my end. For example, if I were to overlay a map showing emissions of each county, how would it compare to the unemployment rate map above? What about comparing asthma data in counties with the highest emission rates?

To be clear, the EPA's database of greenhouse gas emissions has its limitations. Users are able to search by state and emissions source. Once at the state level, users can search by county. However, the database doesn't include carbon dioxide or other pollution from motor vehicles. Emissions from industrial agriculture (aka factory farms) isn't included either.

The database should improve considerably by next year. The EPA said an additional 12 industries will begin reporting their 2011 GHG data this year, including electronics manufacturing, petroleum and natural gas systems, industrial waste landfills fluorinated gas production.

Photo: Flickr user senor_codo, CC 2.0

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure