The exploration, extraction, transportation, production, use, and disposal of fossil fuels — coal, oil, gas — come at a high cost to public health, the environment, and economies at each phase in the development cycle.
Health and safety researchers and government agencies have widely documented the hazards of coal, oil, and gas development to workers and nearby community members including deadly accidents and chronic illnesses; toxic contamination of the air, land, rivers, and streams; property destruction and more. Coal pollution — from mining, transportation, coal power plants, and coal wastes like toxic ash and sludge — includes heavy metals, particulate matter (soot), greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and more. Oil and gas pollutants from drilling, oil refining, processing, and wastes that are dumped in open pits or injected underground include toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs), greenhouse gases, and other particulates.
The profit cycle of fossil fuel companies is inextricably linked with that of the chemical companies. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the chemical industry is the #2 user of fossil fuels, which are used to power manufacturing and also as feedstock for their chemicals. Coal, oil, and gas industries use chemicals at every phase of fossil fuels development. The waste industry benefits from handling and disposal of the byproducts of these development processes.
State and federal environmental regulatory agencies are charged with protecting our health and the environment from these harmful effects. The Louisville Charter principles apply just as much to energy policy as they do to chemicals: the need for immediate action to protect communities most directly and heavily impacted by pollution; requiring full disclosure of chemicals used in the full energy production cycle;and acting on early warnings to avoid toxic contamination and further impacts of climate change.
Adhering to these principles for smart energy policies can reduce the unnecessary hazards of fossil fuel pollution and toxic contamination, and enable clean energy solutions like energy efficiency and new generation with safe, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.