Minority Communities in Richmond “Push Back on Koch Brothers,” Call Fueling U.S. Forward a “Distasteful Effort”

Religious leaders and environmental justice activists in Richmond, Virginia are “pushing back” against the Koch-funded Fueling U.S. Forward campaign’s efforts to target minority communities while promoting the “importance of domestic oil and natural gas to making people’s lives better.”

One element of the strategy to win the “hearts and minds” (as Alex Fitzsimmons of Fueling U.S. Forward put it) of minority communities was on display in Richmond, Virginia last December, when the group threw a gospel concert that included pro-fossil propaganda and a surprise award payment of four attendees’ electric bills.

As the New York Times described:

Though few in the crowd knew it, the concert had a powerful sponsor: Fueling U.S. Forward, a public relations group for fossil fuels funded by Koch Industries, the oil and petrochemicals conglomerate led by the ultraconservative billionaire brothers David H. and Charles G. Koch. About halfway through the event, the music gave way to a panel discussion on how the holidays were made possible by energy — cheap energy, like oil and gas.

The concert flier was adorned with a red car bearing Christmas gifts. “Thankful for the fuels and innovation that make modern life possible,” it read.

At the time, commenting on the event and the campaign to the New York Times, Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, called it “an exploitative, sad and borderline racist strategy.”

Many local environmental advocates from minority communities felt the same. Last week, the region’s Congressman, Rep. A. Donald McEachin, hosted an environmental justice roundtable at a Baptist church in Petersburg, a suburb of Richmond with a strong majority of residents that are people of color.

As reported in the Progress-Index, a daily newspaper from Petersburg, a manager of the Virginia Conservation Network, “a diverse group of conservation organizations that among other issues supports clean energy,” said that the roundtable with Rep. McEachin was an effort “to push back against the Koch brothers.”

Conservation organizer Mariah Davis, also with the VCN, described the Fueling U.S. Forward event as “a ‘distasteful effort’ by Koch to sway low-income communities away from clean energy.”

According to the Progress-Index, Rep. McEachin himself, speaking of the Fueling U.S. Forward concert, “equated the group’s payment of citizens’ electric bills with the ‘30 pieces of silver’ Judas took to betray Jesus.”

As Fueling U.S. Forward works to purchase the hearts and minds of minority communities with electric bill payments and college scholarships, the campaign promotes oil and gas as necessary and cheap sources of energy. Not factored into their definition of “cheap,” however, are the multitude of public health and environmental costs that are inflicted upon the lower-income communities the campaign is targeting.

Thumbnail image credit: Sara Vogelsong, Progress-Index