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The fossil fuel industry wants you to believe it's good for people of color

By Sammy Roth, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

The letter to Mexico's energy minister offered a glowing review of a fossil fuel project in Baja California.

Writing in July, three U.S. governors and the chair of the Ute Indian Tribe praised the Energia Costa Azul project — which was seeking approval from the Mexican government — as "one of the most promising (liquefied natural gas) export facilities on the Pacific Coast."

The letter was arranged by Western States and Tribal Nations, an advocacy group that says it was created in part to "promote tribal self-determination" by creating easier access to overseas markets for gas extracted from Native American lands.

But internal documents shared with The Times reveal that the group's main financial backers are county governments and fossil fuel companies — including Sempra Energy of San Diego, which received approval this month to build the $1.9-billion facility in Baja. In fact, the group has just one tribal member, the Ute Indian Tribe.

Western States and Tribal Nations isn't the only effort by fossil fuel proponents to cast themselves as allies of communities of color and defenders of their financial well-being.

The goal is to bulwark oil and gas against ambitious climate change policies by claiming the moral high ground — even as those fuels kindle a global crisis that disproportionately harms people who aren't white.

 

Recent examples abound.

As protests rocked the United States after the police killing of George Floyd, a government relations firm whose clients include oil and gas companies told news media that the mayor of San Luis Obispo, Calif., was "getting a lot of heat" from the NAACP over a proposal to limit gas hookups in new buildings. That was proved false when the local NAACP chapter said it supported the policy.

Around the same time, Alaska's all-Republican congressional delegation wrote a letter to federal officials complaining about the refusal of several banks to finance oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, writing that the banks were harming Alaska Natives by "openly discriminating against investment in some of the most economically disadvantaged regions of America."

Some of the most contentious debates involve natural gas. The fuel is less polluting than coal, but an international team of scientists reported last year that planet-warming emissions from gas are rising faster than coal emissions are falling. A recent study in the peer-reviewed journal AGU Advances found that replacing coal with gas might do little good for the climate.

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