The National Black Chamber of Commerce has been among more meddlesome corporate climate change solutions blockers for the past two decades. They are under increasing pressure these days.
The organization is small, basically Harry Alford and his spouse Kay Debow run it, but they have fought above-their-weight in the climate change battles over the past two decades. This is because NBCC is a great curve ball for corporate interests, purporting to represent the interests of African American people and businesses, they have served as a front group for invisible fossil fuel interests who know that putting the NBCC out on the front lines gives the appearance of a diverse movement against climate laws and policies.
There have been multiple vigorous critics of the NBCC through the years. Most recently:
Media Matters did a great roundup on NBCC's efforts and counterpoints.
Inside Climate News recently covered the NBCC attacks on the Obama Clean Power Plan as part of a larger effort to confuse minorities about the policy.
Van Jones and Green For All took on NBCC's attacks on the Clean Power Plan
Congressman Alcee Hastings of Florida put out a statement decrying NBCC's corporate ties.
But then in a breakthrough investigation two weeks ago, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting revealed several new corporate funders of the National Black Chamber of Commerce via their annual meeting held just north of Miami in August 5-7, 2015.
Here posted for the first time, is the page from the program from the NBCC annual meeting listing all the corporate sponsors, courtesy of Frank Alvarado, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
Bob Bullard laid down this comment on the FCIR webpage responding to the article
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. Anyone who says black folks don’t care or are not involved in environmental, energy or climate issues don’t really know what the hell is going on and is severely misinformed. We have the facts. The facts show we are not standing idle on the sidelines while national climate action plans are formulated and move forward. Some of our most prestigious organizations and institutions, including our churches and faith based groups, our civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and a large consortium of our historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have taken ownership of climate justice and energy justice as their issue. They are not likely to one of two individuals from the National Black Chamber of Commerce derail their quest.
Climate Progress picked up the story this week, noting that NBCC's climate policy interventions have gone on for many years.
Through the ExxonSecrets database and ExxonMobil Foundation documents, we have followed Exxon and ExxonMobil funding of NBCC every year since at least the late 1990s through 2014, with a grand total of $950,000 in grants through those years. We never knew about Chevron, Southern Company or Koch Industries funding until now.
The former Department of Justice lawyer who led the watershed lawsuit against tobacco companies, says that the news out today about oil giant ExxonMobil knowing as early as 1981 about the threat posed by climate change could worsen the fossil fuel industry's liability picture.
Not only the media are buzzing over the revelation today that Exxon executives knew as early as 1981 of the significance of climate change and the dangers of carbon dioxide emissions, yet continued to fund scientists and a global misinformation campaign to sow doubt about whether global warming is real for another 27 years. Lawyers thinking of suing the industry for its role in warming the planet will certainly take note of what could be a potent new piece of evidence.
The admission came in an email by Leonard Bernstein, a chemical engineer who was Exxon’s in-house climate specialist.
The revelations in the Bernstein email had a familiar ring to former federal Department of Justice lawyer Sharon Eubanks. Eubanks led DOJ’s successful lawsuit against the tobacco companies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws that proved a fifty-year-long conspiracy by Big Tobacco to create doubt about smoking’s hazards.
Eubanks said the revelations in the Bernstein email could significantly worsen the fossil fuel industry’s liability picture:
“It starts to look like a much longer conspiracy. It’s like what we discovered with tobacco – the more you push back the date of knowledge of the harm, the more you delay any remediation, the more people are affected. So your liability can grow exponentially as the timeline gets longer.”
Image credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr
That question was actually asked by British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey last year, and its ramifications are extensively explored in a provocative report released today by the Center for International Environmental Law, a Washington, D.C. think tank.
According to CIEL, the answer to Davey’s question is a resounding “yes.”
The report makes a compelling case that the three big financial rating agencies – Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor - that gave clean bills of health to the toxic financial products that caused the 2008 worldwide financial meltdown are giving similarly bad advice to investors by rating fossil fuel investments without acknowledging climate change-related risk.
Along the way, the report, called “(Mis) Calculated Risk and Climate Change: Are Ratings Agencies Repeating Credit Crisis Mistakes?,” stresses the potentially enormous legal liability for the agencies if their ratings understate the pitfalls of what are likely to be severe climate impacts on oil, gas, and particularly coal companies.
Coal is not only the leading contributor to atmospheric CO2 levels, it is the most financially dangerous investment. Coal prices have plummeted. Between 2010 and 2014, three coal plants were delayed or scrapped for every one built. After being dropped from Standard and Poor’s 500 Index in September, Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private sector coal firm, was dropped from Standard & Poor’s MidCap Index today because its market cap has plunged from $3.9 billion to just $700 million.
Other recent developments have made the idea of stranded fossil fuel assets far more tangible. These have included the G-20 conference asking for an investigation into $6 trillion in planned fossil fuel extraction investments, the wholesale divestment from coal by the Norwegian Pension Fund, and the International Monetary Fund’s repeated calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies.
So far, the Big Three rating agencies have ignored all this – just as they, along with the rest of Wall Street, ignored both common sense and strong evidence that housing prices would not rise forever. The U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which probed the causes of the 2008 crash and worldwide depression, called the three rating firms “key enablers of the financial meltdown. The mortgage-related securities at the heart of the crisis could not have been marketed and sold without their seal of approval. Investors relied on them, often blindly. In some cases, they were obligated to use them, or regulatory capital standards that were hinged on them. This crisis could not have happened without the rating agencies.”
Now the agencies are again playing the role of the blind leading the blind, relying on the assumption that no steps will be taken to reduce fossil fuel reliance, and that a warming world won’t interfere with business as usual. CIEL writes:
“Many in the finance industry continue to rely on the current ≥4°C climate scenario (a “carbon bubble”), just as many relied on scenarios where housing prices did not decrease or stabilize. Indeed, the financial risks of a 2°C climate scenario loom large, just as the risks of sub-prime mortgages loomed over the financial industry prior to the credit crisis. Some analysts project that the fossil fuel industry could lose $28 trillion USD of revenue over the next two decades. Recently, the Bank of England’s Finance Policy Committee announced that it will investigate whether the carbon bubble could lead to a financial collapse.” [The 4-degree scenario is one in which no measures are taken to restrict warming to 2 degrees.]