Fossil fuels—coal, natural gas, and oil—supply the vast majority of our energy needs, including more than two-thirds of US electricity generation. They have powered America for more than a century, but their production and use have significant health and environmental impacts, including air and water pollution, environmental degradation, and global warming.

Big coal, big impact

coal power plant smokestack

America has vast coal reserves that provide nearly half the country’s electricity. Though abundant, coal is a dirty energy source that is responsible for more than a quarter of the nation's total global warming emissions, including 80 percent of all those from power plants.

Coal also has significant, and harmful, consequences for the environment. Coal mining degrades surrounding landscapes, burning coal releases toxins into the atmosphere, and coal-generated electricity places heavy demands on water resources. It all adds up to a huge, and costly, impact.

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Natural gas: A risky bet

natural gas flare

Photo: Shutterstock

Natural gas is a fossil fuel whose emissions contribute to global warming, making it a far less attractive climate solution than lower- and zero-carbon alternatives such as energy efficiency and renewable energy.

During our nation’s transition to a low-carbon energy future, natural gas can play an important but limited role in the electricity and transportation sectors — if policies sufficient to minimize emissions and protect communities and public health are put in place.

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Oil: Major energy source, but not for electricity

oil pumpjacks working

Photo: Offset

Transportation consumes the majority of US oil supplies, though some oil-fired generators produce electricity as well. Oil accounts for only a small percentage of US electricity needs.

Visit the Clean Vehicles section of our site to learn more about US oil use, including a realistic plan to cut projected US oil consumption in half in 20 years.

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We Need Your Support
to Make Change Happen

We can shift our nation away from dirty fossil fuels and toward cleaner, renewable sources of power—but not without you. Your generous support helps develop science-based solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.