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New Study: Fossil Fuels Disproportionately Impact Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Poor Communities Throughout The Supply Chain

Carbon Offsets, Cap-and-trade, CCS and Other “Carbon Centric” Policies Fail to Mitigate Air and Water Pollution

Salem, MA (Thursday, May 18, 2023)-A new open-access peer-reviewed paper “Fossil fuel racism in the United States: How Phasing out coal, oil and gas can protect communities” was just published by Professor Noel Healy (Geography and Sustainability Department, Salem State University), and colleagues from Greenpeace USA and Taproot Earth. The study maps out the disproportionate harms at every stage of the coal, oil, and gas lifecycles for Black, Brown, Indigenous and poor communities. 

The study finds that fossil fuels impose unfair and unjust health harms on Black, Brown, Indigenous and poor communities. The publication draws from 200+ academic studies which reveal a consistent pattern: fossil fuel pollution is associated with asthma, birth complications, cancer, respiratory disease, heart conditions, and premature mortality. Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities bear a disproportionate burden of these harms. These same communities are hit hardest from the impacts of the climate crisis.

Additionally, the study concludes that policies solely focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions without reducing fossil fuel usage could fail to reduce local air and water pollution, fail to alleviate public health harms, and end up perpetuating the racially inequitable impacts of the fossil fuel economy. Black, Asian, Hispanic or Latino, and low-income populations already have an elevated burden of exposure to PM2.5, a pattern which is consistent across nearly all emission source types. Poorly designed climate policies could concentrate this pollution in community “hotspots” even as overall carbon emissions decline. 

Dr. Tim Donaghy, research manager at Greenpeace USA and a co-author of the report, said: “Fossil fuels harm both the climate and our health and must be phased out as fast as possible. But if our climate policies only focus on reducing carbon, we are missing an opportunity to greatly improve health in impacted communities. Carbon-centric policies being pushed by the oil and gas industry won’t alleviate fossil fuel racism and could worsen it for communities who already bear the brunt of the industry’s pollution. A better approach is to shift the focus to the root cause of both carbon and pollution, which are fossil fuels themselves. Policymakers should explicitly mitigate air and water pollution, advance environmental justice, and meaningfully include historically targeted communities in climate policy-making and implementation.”

Noel Healy, professor of Geography and Sustainability at Salem State University and co-author of the report, said: “Alarmingly, Biden is approving new drilling at a faster rate than the Trump administration. This includes approving "carbon bombs" at the Alaska Willow and the LNG Alaska Project, and recently breaking a major G7 climate promise by financing an Indonesian oil refinery. Continued approval of harmful and extractive fossil fuel licenses is a catastrophic climate and public health failure.”

The study makes the following recommendations: (1) The U.S. should implement a managed phase out of fossil fuel production to drive absolute pollution reductions in ‘sacrifice zones’ and to align our policy with 1.5°C pathways (2) Enact a Green New Deal to halt climate change and build a more just and regenerative economy and (3) Protect and expand democratic spaces.


Noel Healy
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