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Koch Industries Plays the Minority Card to Push Forward Fossil Fuels Agenda

Image Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize

Minority groups are usually the ones that have the most to lose when it comes to polluting fossil fuels, both in terms of their climate change and health-related risks. But with its Fueling U.S. Forwardcampaign, the Koch brothers are trying to tell another story in a desperate attempt to save a dying industry, spinning fossil fuels as the saving grace for minorities and low-income families.

While the Kochs have typically relied on funding climate-change denial research to sow seeds of doubt in the renewables industry, the establishment of their new public relations group for fossil fuels illustrates a shift in strategy: courting minorities.

On its website, Fueling U.S. Forward defines its mission as “educating the public about the value and potential of American energy, the vast majority of which comes from fossil fuels. We’ll talk to people of diverse backgrounds — industry employees, small-business owners, community leaders and low-income families — and share their stories.”

The group may only have been established in the spring of 2016, but it hasn’t wasted any time getting its hands dirty. It has already sent delegates to or hosted at least three events aimed at black voters, arguing that they have the most to gain from cheap and abundant fossil fuels and the most to lose if energy costs rise.

Last month, they sponsored a toy drive and gospel concert in Richmond, Virginia. The event included a panel discussion on how the holidays were made possible with the help of fossil fuels and how clean energy and policies that subsidize give preferential treatment to the wealthy and pose a threat to the black community and their pockets.

What the group failed to mention, however, is that people of color are often the victims of environmental injustice and are far more likely to be harmed by the fossil fuel industry than helped. Asthma is more prevalent among minority communities, as they’re more likely to live near coal-fired power plants and other fossil-fuel infrastructure. This often isn’t by choice; it’s because they often don’t have the same level of support to help protect their interests and keep polluting industries out of their neighborhoods.

Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, a nonprofit that works with low-income and minority neighborhoods on environmental issues, weighed in on the campaign, calling it “an exploitative, sad and borderline racist strategy.” He added that the falling cost of renewable energy and underscored that the shift away from fossil fuel reliance is a winning proposition for everyone.

While polls have shown that the majority of American voters continue to support environmental regulations and renewably energy sources, the companies and groups with similar aims to those pursued by the Kochs and Fueling U.S. Forward are well poised to influence the Trump administration, especially considering many of their allies will be occupying important cabinet and transitions posts. For example, Scott Pruitt, attorney general of Oklahoma and Trump’s nominee to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, has received contributions from Kochpac, Koch Industries’ political action committee.

AS Fueling U.S. Forward seeks to rally the support of citizens, policy groups like the Institute for Energy Research and its advocacy arm the American Energy Alliance — which bill themselves as free-market groups fighting regulations they view as distorting the energy market and restricting the use of coal, oil and natural gas in favor of low-emission renewables — have their sights set on Washington. It’s worth noting, that the institute has repeatedly drawn financial support from the fossil-fuel industry and has become a trusted resource for congressional Republicans seeking data to support legislation and speeches on climate change and environmental regulation. It should come as no surprise then that Thomas Pyle, the head of the institute and a former lobbyist for Kock Industries, has landed a position leading president-elect Trump’s transition team for energy, and three other staff members are advising Trump and the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“You have a president-elect who pledged to clean up the swamp, and now you have people being tapped for the most important positions who have been instrumental in advancing corporate interests over the interests of ordinary Americans,” Lisa Graves, executive director of the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy, told Bloomberg.

While the state of environmental regulation remains in the balance in the U.S., China is making strides towards transitioning the world’s largest energy market to clean energy with an investment of $361 billion.

The National Energy Administration (NEA) expects the investment to generate over 13 million jobs in the sector over the next five years, and has high hopes for renewable power capacity, including wind, solar, hydro and nuclear, to contribute to about half of new electricity generation by 2020.

“The government may exceed these targets because there are more investment opportunities in the sector as costs go down,” said Steve Han, renewable analyst with securities firm Shenyin Wanguo.

The social and economic costs of China’s air pollution have become a front-of-mind topic for decision-makers and citizens alike, and this new investment is a step towards finding a solution that will benefit all levels of society. However, China still has considerable obstacles surmount — by the end of the 2016-2020 period, renewables will still only account for 15% of overall energy consumption.


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