Virginia ranks 19th among the states -- and ahead of industrial nations such as Belgium and Sweden -- in its emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants, cars and other energy sources that help fuel the dangerous trend toward global warming, according to a national environmental group.
The Natural Resources Defense Council released a state-by-state tally on greenhouse gas emissions last week with a call for states to take action because the Bush administration has not gone as far as environmental groups would like.
"States are big players when it comes to global warming," said Daniel A. Lashof, the council's senior project scientist and primary author of the report.
Many scientists fear that growing emissions of carbon dioxide and other industrial-age gases are heating up the globe, which could lead to drastic climate changes that would flood coastlines, damage human health and agriculture, and send energy demand soaring.
The environmental group said states should establish a moratorium on coal-fired power plants, mandate energy efficiency in building codes and appliances, require utilities to implement strong conservation programs, promote recycling and discourage car traffic.
The group also urged states to reduce use of chlorofluorocarbons in refrigeration and air conditioning; CFCs are a greenhouse gas also blamed for thinning the planet's protective upper ozone layer.
Virginia released 89.9 metric tons a year of carbon dioxide into the air from sources within the state, the council said. That ranked Virginia 19th among the states but it came out lower, 35th, on a per-capita basis.
The state has taken relatively few actions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, according to Nancy Hirsh, a policy analyst with the Energy Conservation Coalition, although some steps taken for a different reason will have that effect.
The state's recycling program, which has a goal of reducing solid waste by 25 percent by 1995, also will reduce the use of energy needed to manufacture new cans and bottles. The state also enacted a law encouraging localities to adopt ordinances to preserve trees, which remove some carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Susan Hedman, a University of Maryland professor who tracks global warming issues for the Center for Global Change, said Fairfax County's requirement that new subdivisions have tree preservation plans states that one purpose of the mandate is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Virginia also has adopted "least-cost planning" in its decisions on new power plants, which theoretically means that environmental costs will be considered when new energy-generating facilities are proposed, Hedman said.
But the state's General Assembly killed a bill that would have barred restaurants from using polystyrene containers, some of which are manufactured with CFCs.
On the energy conservation front, Virginia Power has undertaken a series of programs that are projected to save the equivalent of one coal-fired power plant over the next decade, according to utility spokesman Jim Norvelle.
Reducing carbon dioxide was not cited as a reason for installing the programs, and the utility recently announced plans to construct a new 400-megawatt coal-fired plant in southern Virginia.