One tactic of the fossil fuel industry’s attack on the proposed Clean Power Plan is to say it unfairly targets minority communities when in fact the opposite is true. Industry-funded groups like the National Black Chamber of Commerce are among the groups making these claims.
In the past National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) president Harry Alford dismissed climate change by quoting Stevie Wonder, saying, “When you believe in things you don’t understand; you suffer. Superstition ain’t the way.”
And while Alford may equate science to superstition, there is no doubt that he understands one thing very well – collecting oil industry money. The NBCC has received over $1 million from ExxonMobil alone.
A new poll released by the Natural Resources Defense Council reports the reality that 83% of African Americans support the Clean Power Plan. And 67% of African Americans say that action should be taken to reduce the threat of global warming.
Which shouldn’t be that surprising as African Americans are more likely to feel the impacts of environmental pollution and risk than other communities in America.
The 2012 report “Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People” revealed that of the 6 million people living in proximity to coal-fired power plants, 39% were people of color and that seventy-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.
And research shows African Americans are nearly three times as likely as whites to be hospitalized or killed by asthma.
In addition to the findings of the new NRDC poll, leaders of major black churches recently presented over 10,000 pastors’ signatures to Congressional Black Caucus members in support of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
As reported by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, Rev. Jesse Bottoms, vice president of the National Baptist Convention, explained what was driving this effort.
“Environmental concerns are not abstractions for African Americans,” Bottoms said. “They are real, and they affect us in very real ways, particularly our children and seniors.”
However, despite the polling and the efforts of the black church leadership, one critical group is not leading on the issue — the politicians representing many of these communities.
In September, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, an ad appeared in a Spanish-language newspaper targeting five Latino and African American lawmakers posing the question, “Would these politicians be willing to confront the petroleum industry and fight for Latino families?”
Of course, the reality is that the five politicians who were targeted have received at least $260,000 combined from oil companies. That might explain statements like the one from Assemblyman Jim Cooper saying that solar panels and electric vehicles “are great, but they don’t come to our neighborhoods.”
As far as the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), they do not even list climate change as an issue on their Issues page. The CBC is notorious for its ability to raise funds from corporations, including polluters in the fossil fuel industry.
A 2010 article in the New York Times about the CBC noted that “lobbyists and executives from coal, nuclear and power giants like Peabody Energy and Entergy helped draft a report in the caucus’s name” and that a “policy document issued by the Black Caucus Institute last year asserted that the financial impact of climate change legislation should be weighed before it is passed, a major industry stand.”
A 2014 article in Grist ran with the headline, “This ambassador for black politicians argues that solar drags down African Americans.” This is another favored industry talking point that claims that rooftop solar will result in higher electricity costs for low-income communities and unfairly target African Americans.
Mark Davis, CEO of minority-owned WDC Solar, was part of the group discussing the new NRDC poll results and has a very different view on the opportunity solar represents for low-income communities.
“I am a Green For All Climate Champion, and renewable energy and energy efficiency are two pillars of our plan for low-income communities to lower the cost of energy, create green jobs for low-income residents, and improve the environment,” Davis said. “The Clean Power Plan can accelerate an increase we’ve already seen in African American participation in clean energy and can enhance economic empowerment in low-income communities.”
Image credit: Energy Collective
The new NRDC poll reports that 87% of African Americans support using more solar over coal or nuclear power.
So while it is clear that African Americans support the Clean Power Plan, solar power, and acting on climate change, it remains to be seen if the politicians representing those communities will do their jobs and go with the will of the people over the will of polluters.