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New Report Details How Fossil Fuel Production Has Created a Public Health Crisis for Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Poor Communities

WASHINGTON - Today, Greenpeace USA, the Movement for Black Lives, and the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy are releasing Fossil Fuel Racism: How Phasing Out Oil, Gas, and Coal Can Protect Communities. Citing examples from Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” to California’s Kern County and beyond, the report examines how every phase of fossil fuel production—extraction, transport, refining, and production—disproportionately pollutes Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities. 

Original analysis from Greenpeace included in the report reveals that oil, gas, and petrochemical refining are among the most disproportionately polluting sectors of the economy, even when compared to other heavily polluting industries. 

Additional key evidence includes:

  • Overall, air pollution in the United States has declined over the last several decades. But communities of color — especially Black and Latinx communities — remain the most exposed to toxic air. 
  • On average, Black communities are 54 percent more exposed to particulate matter pollution than the national population. Latinx communities are 20 percent more exposed. 
  • Racially discriminatory policies of the past like redlining definitively contribute to greater exposure to extreme heat, higher rates of asthma, and proximity to oil drilling today.
  • Pollution from natural gas infrastructure — including pipelines, drilling sites, and processing plants — has increased the risk of cancer for 1 million Black Americans. It’s also contributed to 138,000 asthma attacks and 101,000 lost school days for Black children.
  • Nationally, 17.6 million people live within one mile of an active oil or gas well and more than 6.1 million people live within three miles of an oil and gas refinery.

“Fossil fuel pollution is a public health crisis for Black people and fossil fuel emissions are a death sentence for the planet,” said Colette Pichon Battle, Founder and Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy and Leadership Team Member with the Movement for Black Lives. “Black and poor communities endure a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution while a handful of fossil fuel companies are raking in millions of dollars in profits. We deserve a world beyond fossil fuels. It’s time for a national divestment in all that harms Black lives and investment in a just, equitable, renewable energy future for our communities.”

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Despite the overwhelming evidence of fossil fuels’ contributions to the climate crisis and racial injustice, the Biden administration has not signaled any intention to wind down existing fossil fuel production. Evidence from ‘natural experiments’ where refineries and fossil-fueled power plants have been retired suggests that phasing out fossil fuels on a national scale would have significant public health benefits, particularly for historically targeted communities. 

“Climate destruction is only possible because our government tolerates racism,” said Tim Donaghy, PhD, Senior Research Specialist at Greenpeace USA. “The reality is that fossil fuel corporations would quickly cease to exist if they were held legally and financially accountable for the racist impacts of their pollution. President Biden himself has outlined four priorities for his administration: health, economic recovery, racial justice, and the climate crisis. By phasing out fossil fuel production, he can advance all four at once. When we pursue solutions that protect those on the frontlines, we give everyone the chance to thrive.”

President Biden has a major chance to address fossil fuel racism in the United States’ updated commitment to the Paris climate agreement, which he’s expected to announce at the April 22 Earth Day Global Climate Summit. The science is clear: we cannot tackle the climate crisis—or systemic racism—and continue to burn fossil fuels. 

The findings of the Fossil Fuel Racism report and policy solutions therein have been endorsed by 26 leading public health, climate, economic, and racial justice organizations: 350.org, Action Center on Race and the Economy, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Anti Police-Terror Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Central California Environmental Justice Network, Communities for a Better Environment, Earthworks, Friends of the Earth US, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, GreenFaith, Idle No More SF Bay, Indivisible, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project, Mothers Out Front, National Hispanic Medical Association, Oil Change International, Our Climate, People’s Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Rainforest Action Network, RISE St. James, STAND-L.A., Sunrise Movement, and Working Families Party. 

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