Under our office door came a note advising us that African-American and Latino groups would have a press conference the next day to release a report showing that minority populations will suffer most if the United Nations Global Warming Treaty--the 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 told us that CEED is a coal industry front group. If ratified, the Kyoto agreement would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.
But nothing in the press materials told us that this was a coal industry event. So we decided to go to the press conference and play along.
Perhaps because it was a slow news day, there were many reporters attending the press briefing, including reporters from the Associated Press and L.A. Times. C-SPAN's camera was there to beam the press conference out live.
The moderator, Linda Brown from the Houston public relations firm, opened by saying blacks and Latinos are left out of the national policy debate on global warming. We were told that six black and Latino groups, including the AFL-CIO's A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, were releasing a report, which found that "millions of blacks, Hispanics and other minorities could be pushed into poverty by tough new restrictions on energy use."
After a video, the leaders of the groups laid out the chief findings of the study: The Kyoto treaty would trigger a recession that would put more than 1 million black and Latino workers’ jobs at risk, and higher unemployment, reduced earning power and higher prices for energy would impoverish millions of people of color.
Almost an hour into the press conference, not one mention had been made of the coal industry's involvement with the study. Sitting next to us in the press area was Stephen Miller, the president of CEED. Yes, the coal industry had paid $40,000 for the report, he admitted.
In addition, Harry Alford of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, said that his organization had received checks from Texaco, 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. Hurst confronted Alford at the press conference, pointing out that communities of color 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 Lowery 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."
They 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. In addition, 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 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."
Russell Mokhiber is editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, and Robert Weissman is editor of Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Common Courage).
Think Tank Monitor is a joint project of FAIR and the Institute for Public Accuracy.