Talking Points

Racial Justice and Fossil Fuels

The fossil fuel industry is disproportionately harming people of color and perpetuating racial injustice. 

Download these talking points as a PDF. 


As Leah Stokes and Nikayla Jefferson wrote, “It’s time to face facts. If Americans are sincere that Black lives matter, the fossil fuel era must end.” Our fossil fuel based energy system is racist. Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other communities of color are disproportionately harmed by the fossil fuel industry, its pollution, and the climate crisis it creates. Many of these same communities are also leading the fight against fossil fuels and are at the forefront of creating a new, clean energy economy that works for all. 

The Fossil Fuel Industry is Racist

The fossil fuel industry is racist

The fossil fuel industry is killing Black Americans and other people of color every day.

The industry perpetuates environmental racism by placing polluting facilities in low-income communities of color.

There are countless examples of when the industry has moved a polluting project from a predominantly white neighborhood to a Black or Brown neighborhood.

Fossil fuels require sacrifice zones, polluted and poisoned communities that are almost always made up with a majority of people of color.

Low-income communities, communities of color, and immigrant communities tend to have the most fracking wells near schools.

In Texas, communities that are more than 80% minority population are twice as likely to have fracking wastewater storage facilities than white communities.

Hispanic women in Texas who live near gas flaring are seeing a 50% increase in premature births.

As Hop Hopkins of the Sierra Club has written, “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.”

Indigenous peoples are on the frontlines of this crisis

In the United States, Native American reservations represent only 2 percent of the land but hold approximately 20 percent of the country’s fossil fuel reserves.

In Navajo Nation, uranium mining and coal mining and power plants have polluted the land, air and water for generations.

Major fossil fuel pipelines are often planned to run across Indigenous lands because the companies think they can overpower any Tribal resistance.

The Dakota Access Pipeline was moved to run through the Standing Rock Reservation after white communities complained about the project.

During the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners and the state of North Dakota brought in militarized police forces to brutalize water protectors who were defending their home.

In Canada, the development of the tar sands, the dirtiest fuel on the planet, has poisoned and polluted First Nation communities throughout the region, as well as along pipeline routes.

Climate Justice is Racial Justice

We are fighting interconnected systems of oppression. The same forces that prioritize corporate property and white comfort over Black lives, prioritize profit over people and biodiversity.

Communities of color are also on the frontlines of solutions, finding innovative ways to build a regenerative economy that works for people and the planet.

Ending fossil fuels would save Black lives

Black Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than White Americans.

13.4 percent of African American children nationwide have asthma, compared to 7.3 percent for white children.

The death rate for African American children with asthma is one per 1 million, while for white children it is one per 10 million.

1 in 5 African Americans — 6.7 million people — live in counties with refineries, potentially exposing them to an elevated risk of cancer due to toxic air emissions.

40 percent of all people living in counties with refineries in Michigan, Louisiana and Pennsylvania are African American.

Blacks make up only 16% of the population in Tennessee but 54% of the people who live in a county with an oil refinery in it.

More than 1 million African Americans within half a mile of existing natural gas facilities and the number is growing every year.

Over 1 million African Americans live in counties that face a cancer risk above the EPA’s level of concern from toxins emitted by natural gas facilities.

Black Americans are 75% more likely to live in a fence-line community than the average American.

Residents who lived next to the AllenCo drilling site in Jefferson Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, complained for years about odors, nausea, body spasms, and respiratory illnesses, before the site was closed in 2013.

The majority of the 142 large oil refineries in the United States are sited in low-income areas and communities of color.

Black women are twice as likely to have stillborn babies than white mothers because of their unequal exposure to air pollution and heat waves.

If you live near a refinery or a coal plant, you’re more likely to have asthma. And if you have asthma, you’re more likely to die from COVID-19. It’s that simple.

Areas with higher levels of air pollution will see more hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus.

One of the reasons that African Americans in the United States are dying at higher rates because of COVID-19 is because they live in more polluted communities because of environmental racism.