Minorities Targeted with Misinformation on Obama's Clean Power Plan, Groups Say

The National Black Chamber of Commerce launched a PR campaign against the carbon regulations, fueled by its oil and gas industry sponsors, critics contend.
Congressman Alcee Hastings has called on the National Black Chamber of Commerce to cut fossil fuel ties

Congressman Alcee Hastings is among those criticizing the National Black Chamber of Commerce for misleading minorities on pollution regulations. Credit: Congressman Hastings office, via Flickr

This story was updated with new details Aug. 13

After the Environmental Protection Agency released its groundbreaking carbon regulations last week, opponents worked to fill the airways and newspaper opinion pages with the message that the Clean Power Plan would cost minority communities millions of jobs and increase their poverty levels by more than 25 percent.

The claims were the resurgence of a campaign put forward two months ago by the National Black Chamber of Commerce. The Washington, D.C.  group describes itself as a "nonprofit, nonpartisan, nonsectarian organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of African American communities," but in fact has strong financial ties to the oil and gas industry.

It’s campaign was so vigorous, a prominent African American congressman, Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) made a strong statement during the group’s annual convention in Florida and urged NBCC to sever ties with the industry and stop misleading minorities, who are disproportionately affected by pollution.

"The National Black Chamber of Commerce should take a firm stand against the misinformation being spread by these industries," Hastings said. "I believe that we should all be on the side of families, not industry polluters. I urge the NBCC to cut ties with these groups immediately."

The NBCC has received more than $1 million from the ExxonMobil Foundation since 1998. Among the sponsors of that annual convention were Gulf Power, Florida's division of Southern Company,  Koch Industries and its subsidiary Georgia Pacific, Chevron and the American Chemistry Council, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting wrote

"The National Black Chamber of Commerce is very well known as a front group for industry," said Aliya Haq, special projects director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate and clean air program. "It wasn't surprising when these claims came out. It is just their latest attempt at derailing regulation in a long history of working with fossil fuel companies."

The NBCC's arguments have raised questions about the Clean Power Plan among some minority communities, said Jacqui Patterson, director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's environmental and climate justice program.

"Folks in communities where I work have come to me and said they've heard this and are asking for clarification," she said. "Electricity bills for low-income and many minority communities are a higher proportion of people's income. Anything that says bills might go up definitely raises alarms."

While the EPA predicts electricity prices may rise 2.4 to 2.7 percent by 2020 under the Clean Power Plan, it also argues that improvements in energy efficiency will offset the cost for consumers. It will also improve public health by lowering exposure to fine particulates and ozone pollution in neighborhoods near power plants, saving governments and families up to $34 billion in medical expenses by 2030, according to the EPA.

"Pollution is a problem that disproportionately affects minorities in our country," Hastings said in his statement. "According to the NACCP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, 68 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a power plant. This means that black communities across the country are more vulnerable to exposure from power plant emissions and carbon pollution."

The NBCC did not respond to request for comment.

"The NBCC claims have been fact-checked and proven inaccurate multiple times," said Dave Anderson, energy campaign organizer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a scientific and environmental advocacy group. "Most journalists see that, but the group is using newspapers' opinion sections to get around the fact-checking of reporters."

NBCC has been fighting environmental regulations since the late 1990s, coinciding with some of its earliest donations from ExxonMobil. In 2000, the organization published a study on the impacts of the Kyoto Protocol, the first international agreement on climate change, on African Americans and Hispanics. It argued the Protocol could "force millions of Blacks and Hispanics below the poverty line." NBCC president Harry Alford has testified before Congress in recent months on the negative impacts of both the Clean Power Plan and EPA plans to lower acceptable ground ozone levels.

The organization is not the only one with strong financial ties to the fossil fuel industry vocally opposing the carbon regulations. Charles Steele Jr., the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who has close ties with oil and gas executives, has been quoted in several articles and opinion pieces contending that the Clean Power Plan will be bad for low-income households. Similar campaigns have been launched by The Cato Institute, Beacon Hill Institute, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Heartland Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among dozens of other groups that have received fossil fuel funding.

Patterson and Haq said efforts to discredit the carbon regulations among minorities are particularly frustrating because these communities are expected to benefit the most from the Obama administration's carbon regulations, which is being enacted under the Clean Air Act, a piece of landmark environmental legislation signed into law in 1970.

"Every time we've cleaned up pollution in these communities, it has been good for these communities," said Haq. "Never have the lights gone off or bills skyrocketed from a new Clean Air Act rule. It has been good for people's health, and not bad for their budgets."

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