On December 10 2016, Fueling U.S. Forward and Reaching America partnered with the City of Richmond and Radio One to sponsor a toy drive and holiday concert at the Trinity Family Life Center in Richmond, Va. The event had several Grammy-level gospel recording artists such as VaShawn Mitchell and Charles Jenkins, and a panel discussion on the role energy plays in their everyday life, including the holidays.
At the end of the concert, four people were randomly picked to have their most recent electric bill paid up to $250.
The majority of attendees at this event were black. It was held at a black church, had black gospel artists and was advertised through Radio One, a network with a large black listener base.
Don't think for a moment that this was a coincidence.
The Koch brothers have come up with a new approach to advancing a fossil fuel agenda. They're using low-income and minority communities to promote coal, oil and natural gas.
For more than 30 years, Charles and David Koch have provided tens of millions of dollars to groups that deny climate change and derail science-based policies that would limit carbon emissions.
In the spring of 2016, Koch launched a new PR campaign – Fueling U.S. Forward – telling low-income families that oil and natural gas is the best way out of poverty. Fueling U.S. Forward is now a nonprofit organization “dedicated to educating the public about the value and potential of American energy.” It has a $10 million-a-year campaign budget that is funded by Koch Industries.
It's the same marketing tactics and argument used by tobacco lobbyists: stricter regulations on goods would disproportionately affect low-income areas.
This time, the argument is that wealthy individuals that subsidize electric vehicles and install solar panels on their homes contribute to rising gas prices. Somehow efforts to promote clean energy and build a green economy deprives taxpayers.
Fueling U.S. Forward has hosted events aimed at getting the support of black voters, including: presenting scholarships to local high school students at a Baptist church in North Carolina and sponsoring the National Political Convention, a conference hosted by the National Policy Alliance (NPA) – a network that brings together African-American political groups.
Linda Haithcox, NPA’s executive director, said their aim is to stand up for poor and underserved communities, and that NPA’s position on energy policy hasn't changed even though they received funding from Koch Industries and other energy groups.
Unfortunately, you cannot stand up for black communities while also taking money from companies that profit from poisoning the same people.
If the NPA and other black political groups want equitable access to clean energy sources for all consumers, then it must divest from companies that promote cheap and dirty energy. Poor people and communities of color pay the price with their health for the Koch brothers and other oil and petrochemical magnates to become wealthy. Utility and energy companies pollute the air we breathe and water we drink to keep the price of energy low.
The U.S. is still a fossil fuel-based economy, yet, families already struggle with transportation costs and paying their electric bill. What exactly do black communities have to gain by publicly supporting a fossil fuel agenda? Respiratory illnesses, cancer, heart disease, birth defects and high hospital bills?
Richmond continues to reign as one of the nation’s top asthma capitals, even taking the top spot in 2010, 2011 and 2014. Pollution, particulates and poverty are the biggest offenders.
The wealthiest people in the world have the biggest carbon footprint, but the poorest are the most vulnerable.
With a governor’s race underway this year, let’s prioritize the environmental injustices happening in our own backyards. Don’t be fooled by political leaders and energy companies that say they’re keeping energy prices low for us. They’re doing it for themselves to make a profit.
What happened in East Chicago?
The national attention Flint received may have sparked action to finally be taken in East Chicago, Indiana but there are thousands of low-income communities in the U.S. that are being poisoned because of environmental racism.
East Chicago – a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood – is one of those cities.
In July 2016, nearly 1,200 residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago received a letter from the mayor ordering them to temporarily relocate because of high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil.
Other residents of Calumet received a notice from the EPA stating how high the lead and arsenic levels were around their homes. This was based on samples taken in December 2014.
That’s right. They were informed almost two years later.
According to EPA documentation, lead levels exceeded 5,000 parts per million when the standard level allowed is 400 parts per million.
The most contaminated yards showed lead levels 227 times above the allowable limit. Arsenic levels were 135 times above its limit.
By September 1, Mayor Anthony Copeland had informed residents they were being given 60 days to find a new home as the public housing complex would be demolished. This sent hundreds of low-income families scrambling to find a place to live in an area with a limited availability of affordable housing.
Many families were required to pay for their relocation costs out of pocket before voucher and rent reimbursement.
After 60 days nearly passed, only 29 of 332 families had found alternative housing. HUD had to extend its deadline to ensure all eligible residents had access to safe housing and relocation benefits.
Today, East Chicago is grappling with dislocation, health concerns and cleanup efforts.
670 children lived in that housing complex. By the end of summer 2016, city officials confirmed that 33 children younger than 7 years old had excessive lead in their bloodstream. With lead screenings still ongoing, it’s expected that more kids have been poisoned.
The EPA has found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in 18 of the 43 homes tested in a pilot study to determine if the contaminated soil caused lead in pipes to enter the water supply. The Northwest Indiana Times is reporting that up to 90 percent of homes in East Chicago have lead in their water lines.
Members from various community groups have now organized into the East Chicago Calumet Coalition to communicate needs and questions to the EPA. They are also working with lawmakers to draft legislation that provides financial assistance to aid in cleanup and testing, the school district and residents that were forced to relocate; including homeowners that need to sell their houses.
Many are wondering how government agencies let this happen and why action wasn’t taken sooner.
Environmental advocate. Communications professional. Sports fan. I love television and press conferences.