The National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), a prominent critic of environmental and renewable energy initiatives, is getting even more of its funding from fossil fuel energy companies than previously thought. According to an analysis by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR), the group’s funding — which had been known to include at least $1 million from ExxonMobil — can in fact be traced to several other fossil fuel companies. The FCIR reported that the NBCC’s sponsors included utilities, trade groups, and fossil fuel companies that have opposed action to cut carbon pollution: Chevron, Southern Company, Gulf Power, Koch Industries, Georgia-Pacific, and the American Chemistry Council.
The ExxonMobil Foundation has disclosed the grants it provides for years, and thus has been known to be a significant funder of the NBCC. The foundations affiliated with oil giant Chevron and coal-heavy Southern Company in particular do not disclose grants were previously not public funders of the organization.
“NBCC has been shilling for the interests of big oil and and maybe coal and utilities interests going back nearly 20 years,” Kert Davies, the director of the Climate Investigations Center, told ThinkProgress. “To date, all we have been able to confirm was ExxonMobil’s financial stake in NBCC. Ultimately, stopping climate and other environmental protections are not the interests of ‘black business’, but the interests of very very big business.”
“The National Black Chamber of Commerce should take a firm stand against the misinformation being spread by these industries,” Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) said in a statement in early August. “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.”
Last week, the Washington, D.C.-based NBCC hosted its annual conference in Florida. The Sunshine State has been ground zero in a fight over increasing access to solar power. Instead of embracing a ballot initiative that seeks to allow ordinary people to purchase solar power directly from other consumers, as conservative groups like Floridians for Solar Choice have, the NBCC “decried the Shady Solar Amendment as misleading” in a release.
Harry C. Alford, president and CEO of the NBCC, said in the statement that his concern was over “potential increases in electric service rates and higher state and local taxes” should the amendment pass.
FCIR puts the source and scope of Alford and NBCC’s fossil fuel funding into perspective. Reporter Francisco Alvarado notes that Alford’s “opposition to clean energy initiatives has help[ed to] create a substantial revenue stream for the National Black Chamber of Commerce.” Looking at IRS tax filings, Alvarado found that the NBCC brings in around $1 million a year, “with most of the money coming from large companies that oppose clean energy initiatives.”
“It’s a lot of money given the organization’s small staff,” Alvarado wrote. “The National Black Chamber of Commerce lists just two key employees on annual IRS filings — Alford and his wife.”
Robert Bullard, dean of the school of public affairs at Texas Southern University and arguably the foremost pioneer of the environmental justice movement, has said the NBCC has misrepresented the interests of the African American community for years. He posted a comment on FCIR’s article via his Facebook account to criticize the NBCC:
The National Black Chamber of Commerce for more than a decade has been spreading propaganda and talking points of the white U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Most black folks know Harry Alford does not represent them or the black business community at large. One need only peruse his organization’s thin membership and major contributor list to understand what’s really going on. This is not rocket science. African Americans were essential in the founding of the U.S. environmental and climate justice movement because our communities are disproportionately and adversely impacted.
The group’s opposition to policies seeking to cut pollution and increase renewable energy stretches back to the late 1990s, when the NBCC fought against the Kyoto protocol.
In August 1997, the NBCC approved a resolution opposing U.S. participation in any meaningful U.N. climate pact like the one to be negotiated in Kyoto, Japan later that year. The resolution said that “the NBCC dedicates itself to educating its members, constituents, and others that there is no scientific reason for limits on greenhouse gas emissions.” It stated concerns that climate action would disproportionately impact urban areas and black-owned businesses.
Management Information Services, Inc. (MISI) bills itself as “an internationally recognized, Washington D.C.-based economic research and management consulting firm with expertise in economic forecasting, litigation support and expert witness testimony, analysis of energy, environmental and electric utility issues, and labor markets.”
Roger Bezdek, MISI’s president, has been with the firm for nearly 30 years, and has spoken at past NBCC conferences. MISI has written reports for ACCCE, the “clean coal” industry group, on “the social benefits of carbon” pollution. Bezdek has given presentations on the same topic, earning a Washington Post op-ed debunking his climate denier views.
Bezdek’s firm has a history of working with NBCC. In 2000, MISI did an analysis (pdf download) about the likely economic impacts of the Kyoto Protocol on minority communities in the United States, sponsored by the NBCC and several other minority business groups. Its conclusion: “by virtually any economic, employment, or social criterion, Blacks and Hispanics will likely be seriously harmed by implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.”
MISI recently updated that analysis for the same collection of business groups in a report called, “”Refusing to repeat past mistakes: How the Kyoto Climate Change Protocol would disproportionately threaten the economic well-being of Blacks and Hispanics in the United States.”
In June, MISI authored a report just for the NBCC about the impact EPA’s proposed carbon rule would have on minority communities. It concluded, once again, that “these regulations would have serious economic, employment, and energy impacts at the national level and for all states, and the impacts on low-income groups, Blacks, and Hispanics would be especially severe.” This report relied on thoroughly debunked studies from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and NERA Economic Consulting about the alleged costs of EPA’s proposed rule.
During his speech announcing the EPA’s final carbon rule for existing power plants, President Obama noted that an African American child was twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma.
“Even more cynical, we’ve got critics of this plan who are actually claiming that this will harm minority and low-income communities,” Obama said. “Even though climate change hurts those Americans the most, who are the most vulnerable.”
African American communities are disproportionately impacted by all kinds of fossil fuel pollution, including carbon pollution, which can trap heat and pollutants. This damages air quality and triggers asthma and heart attacks.
Alford testified before Congress earlier this year against EPA regulations limiting ground-level ozone levels, one of more than a dozen appearances before various committees. These statements do not help African American communities, according to Dr. Michael Dorsey, interim director for the Energy and Environment Program at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
“This testimony harms African Americans,” Dorsey told ThinkProgress earlier this year. “Alford’s false claims about energy are a triple threat — they harm African Americans in their wallets, they harm them in their lungs, and they threaten the environments they live in. He doesn’t even represent black business, it’s criminal.”
The NBCC’s rival, the U.S. Black Chambers (USBC), fully supports President Obama’s recently released Clean Power Plan (CPP). Ron Busby, the USBC’s president and CEO, wrote members a letter explaining why his organization gave “strong support” to the CPP. “The USBC supports any endeavor that will create businesses and jobs, stimulate the economy, increase employment while simultaneously creating a safe and healthy living environment in the U.S., preeminently, those underserved communities that are hit the hardest,” Busby said in the letter.