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USA: Fronting for Big Coal

by Russell Mokhiber and Robert WeissmanFocus on the Corporation
July 11th, 2000

So, we're sitting in our office, and under the door comes a note advising us that there will be a press conference the next day where African-American and Hispanic groups will release a report showing how minority populations will suffer most if the United Nations Global Warming Treaty (Kyoto agreement) passes the U.S. Senate.

The press conference was being pulled together by Advantage Communications Consultants, a public relations firm in Houston, and coordinated by a group called the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED).

A simple check tells us that CEED is a coal industry front group. Of course, the coal industry has a lot to lose if the United States moves away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources, like solar.

But nothing in the press materials tells us that this is a coal industry event. So we decide to go to the press conference and play along.

And it's a slow news day, so when we arrive, there are many reporters attending the press briefing, including reporters from the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times. C-SPAN's camera is there to beam the press conference out live.

And the moderator, Linda Brown, from the Houston public relations firm, makes her opening statement, saying Blacks and Hispanics are left out of the national policy debate on global warming.

We are told that six Black and Hispanic groups, including the AFL-CIO's A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, are releasing a report.

The report finds that "millions of blacks, Hispanics and other minorities could be pushed into poverty by tough new restrictions on energy use" called for by the Kyoto treaty.

If ratified, the treaty would require reductions in carbon dioxin emissions from burning fossil fuels.

A video is shown. And then the leaders of the Black and Hispanic groups present lay out the chief findings of the study -- that America's minority community would be hardest hit by a recession triggered by the Kyoto treaty, that the treaty would put more than one million Black and Hispanic worker jobs at risk, that higher unemployment, reduced earning power, and higher prices for energy and other consumer goods would push millions of people of color into poverty.

So, now we're almost an hour into the press conference, and not one mention is made of the coal industry's involvement with the study -- a salient factoid if there ever was one in the context of this press conference.

We're sitting in the press area, and next to us is sitting Stephen Miller, the president of CEED, the coal front group. So, we point out that CEED is a corporate front group. And we wanted to know -- did the coal industry pay for this report?

Yes, the coal industry paid $40,000 for the report, Miller admits.

And Harry Alford, of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, said that his organization has received checks from Texaco and General Motors and others, but "that money has nothing to do with what we are doing here today."

"I take offense at your thinking that our groups are here because someone gave us a check to say something," Alford said. "So, I'm a little insulted. And I do think the question is racial."

Lionel Hurst appeared insulted, too. By Alford. Hurst is the Ambassador to the United States from Antigua and Barbuda. Tipped off to the press conference, Hurst attended and confronted Alford. He pointed out that people of color communities around the world are already suffering unduly from the impacts of global warming. "Failure to act internationally on global warming will pose the greatest costs to the most vulnerable nations of the world due to sea level rise and the spread of infectious diseases in a warmer world," Hurst said.

Also offended were the African-American activists who for years have been working on the question of polluting industries dumping on minority communities.

These activists, including Dr. Joseph Lowrey of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Connie Tucker of the Southern Organizing Committee, sent a letter to all members of Congress, pointing out that the risks to minority communities from global warming "are much greater than the dangers from the Kyoto Protocol that appear in the biased predictions of the coal lobby."

In the letter, the activists pointed out that asthma death rates are two times higher for Blacks than for Whites and that a recent national assessment of the regional impacts of global warming on the United States found that higher temperatures, coupled with air pollution in minority neighborhoods, would further aggravate asthma problems. And the coal industry study ignored the substantial long-term economic benefits of mitigating global warming.

These arguments didn't faze Oscar Sanchez, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, which represents 1.5 million Hispanic members of the AFL-CIO.

He defended his group's participation in the coal industry-funded event and laid down a slippery slope philosophy familiar to public interest groups throughout the city co-opted by big business money.

"We had a story to tell and we found a way of doing it," Sanchez told reporters during the press conference. "We found a sponsor. It's not uncommon. It's not like it's something that never happened before."

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman





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