Black organizations at odds over climate bill

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Geese flying past a smokestack at the Jeffery Energy Center coal power plant near Emmitt, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Last week’s brouhaha between Harry Alford, National Black Chamber of Commerce [NBCC] president, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, dispelled any assumptions that all African Americans are on board for the new clean energy bill going through Congress.

Black President Barack Obama may have introduced the new climate plan, and black Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson may endorse it, but NBCC’s Alford hates it, as he made plain to Boxer in the committee hearings. He was not moved, and in fact was infuriated when Boxer tried to impress upon him that the NAACP passed a resolution in support of the climate bill — a gesture he took as “condescending” and “racial.” His closing comment was that he “speaks for the African-American community,” but for those keeping score it is clear that he alone could not possibly represent black thought on the climate bill.

Both the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus have given votes of confidence for the current climate change legislation while the NBCC and the Congress of Racial Equality have shown no confidence in it. The Urban League has yet to make its presence felt in the climate policy debate, though that may change after their national conference, which starts at the end of this month.

Nascent organizations such as Green for All and the Apollo Alliance have been the go-to groups on climate change policy, and while they are demographically all-inclusive, neither group by design has an agenda that specifically addresses African American concerns. Environmental justice groups, most notably the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, have spoken most openly and authoritatively on global warming and energy implications for African Americans and minorities, but are often left from the policy table.

So how is it that the NBCC keeps getting invited to Capitol Hill to testify on energy policy? Alford was invited there as early as 1998 to testify against the Kyoto Treaty and as recently as last year to speak against the Lieberman-Warner bill, which at the time was hailed as the strongest climate legislation to make it to the Senate floor. Why other organizations that advocate on behalf of African Americans, minorities and low-income families are not invited for these kinds of hearings is a wonder. It’s especially curious that NBCC gets these special invites when his organization seems to go far against the grain of expert analysis on the issue.

When speaking before the Environment and Public Works committee last week, Alford cited a study – which the National Black Chamber of Commerce paid consultants CRA International to produce – that said the American Clean Energy and Security Act [ACES] would cost the U.S. over $350 billion in gross domestic product and 2.5 million jobs per year through 2030. By that math, if implemented next year ACES would cost the U.S. 50 million jobs by 2030.

Laurie Johnson of the National Resources Defense Council categorically debunks CRA’s entire argument stating that GDP will be 70% higher than today’s if the bill passes. According to a UMass study clean energy and energy efficiency industries create three jobs for every one job the fossil fuel industries presently create; forecasts from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Congressional Budget Office cite similar figures.

Despite this, the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the Congress Of Racial Equality continue peddling mostly debunked reports about energy bills rising and jobs disappearing for certain. The NAACP, the CBC and the Urban League have all publicly stated that their research on the matter indicates otherwise — that jobs will increase and families will save in the long run.

NBCC and CORE’s funding on the issue has come from ExxonMobil, large funders of denial of global warming and lobbyists against climate legislation. Which begs the question: does Alford speak for African Americans, or for oil companies?