The generation and use of energy can affect the environment and human health. Conventional energy generated from the burning of fossil fuels results in pollutants being emitted into the air. Fossil fuel-fired power plants are responsible for 67 percent of the nation's sulfur dioxide emissions, 23 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions, and 40 percent of man-made carbon dioxide emissions. These emissions can lead to smog, acid rain, and haze. In addition, these power plant emissions increase the risk of climate change (US EPA).
There are six common air pollutants, most of which result from the burning of fossil fuels: ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and lead.
Water Quality and Water Supply
Drilling and mining operations to obtain fuel (coal, oil, natural gas) usually involve the discharge of wastewater that contains pollutants (such as heavy metals and salts). The burning of these fuels for electricity generation also results in the discharge of water used in the generation or cooling systems, and these water discharges can contain pollutants, including excess heat. Additionally, electricity generation generally involves the consumption of water resources (e.g., for steam production and cooling, equipment cleaning, and other purposes) (US EPA).
Solid Waste Generation
Burning coal, oil, or municipal solid waste to generate electricity results in the creation of solid waste. Some of this waste, like non-hazardous ash, is disposed of in landfills or recycled and used in cement and building materials. In other cases, this waste may contain toxic and hazardous elements and materials that require special handling, treatment, and disposal.
Steps to reduce the environmental impact of energy use
1) Track how much energy you use
2) Become more energy efficient
3) Purchase green power