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U.S. Ranks 24th in New Environmental Performance Index, Near Bottom of Developed Countries

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A coke storage area is seen as steam rises from the quench towers at the US Steel Clairton Works on Jan. 21, 2020, in Clairton, Pennsylvania. White plumes of smoke billow above western Pennsylvania's rolling hills as scorching ovens bake coal, which rolls in by the trainload along the Monongahela River. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP via Getty Images

President Trump's claim that the U.S. has the cleanest air and water in the world has been widely refuted by statistics showing harmful levels of pollution. Now, a new biannual ranking released by researchers at Yale and Columbia finds that the U.S. is nowhere near the top in environmental performance, according to The Guardian.


Not only is the U.S. not in the top 10, it's not in the top 20. It ranks 24th in the 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which was released on Thursday. The top ranked country, Denmark, has made commitments to a carbon-free future, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. By contrast, the U.S., during the Trump administration, has worked at breakneck speed to rollback environmental regulations, expand fossil fuel development, and ditch international treaties protecting the environment. He has even questioned climate science and ridiculed its findings.

"If you look at Denmark, they're doing great but they're a tiny fraction of overall carbon emissions or greenhouse gas emissions broadly," said Zach Wenderling, lead researcher on the index, as The Guardian reported. "The U.S. is one of the top five players in every greenhouse gas, so we need to do better than just OK if we're going to generate the best practices."

Many signatories to the Paris agreement have ramped up their commitments to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, especially in Europe. European countries performed the best in the new index. After Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom rounded out the top four, according to The Guardian.

Researchers at Yale and Columbia universities produce the global report, which is released every two years. It ranks 180 of the world's nations on 24 key indicators in 10 categories related to environmental health and ecosystem vitality.

The data-driven and empirical approach to environmental protection makes it easier to spot problems, track trends, highlight policy successes and failures, identify best practices, and optimize the benefits of investing in environmental protection, said Daniel Esty, a professor of environmental law and policy at Yale, in a university press release.

"[T]he EPI provides a clear and compelling way to see which countries are leading issue by issue, who is lagging, and what the best policy practices look like across a range of critical environmental challenges," said Esty, in the university press release.

Since the EPI was created in the year 2000, the U.S has never reached the top of the rankings.

"Countries that make an effort do better than those that don't don't and the U.S. right now is not making an effort. That shows up in a stagnation in the rankings where others are really seeing some significant improvements," said Esty, as The Guardian reported.

The U.S., which is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions after China, is near the bottom of the rankings for advanced industrial countries. China, which suffers from poor air quality, has made significant investments in solar energy and reducing its dependence on coal, and climbed the rankings to 120th place. China is still a big polluter but has made "much more dramatic progress than other countries," Esty said, as The Guardian reported.

China's ranking as the world's worst contributor to the climate crisis is only recent. Over time, the U.S. has put more heat trapping gases into the air than any other country. India, which also sees its cities choking under polluted air quality, ranked 168th.


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