Top American civil rights activists are opposing an abrupt move away from natural gas, putting them at odds with environmentalists and progressive Democrats who want to ban fracking.
Driving the news: Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and National Urban League president Marc Morial told Axios energy costs are hitting people of color unfairly hard. These concerns, expressed before the coronavirus pandemic, are poised to expand as paychecks shrink.
What they’re saying:
- Sharpton in March: “I think people are concerned about the affordability and they are concerned about being left in the cold. I think natural gas is a temporary — I don’t think we ought to make it the end-all, be-all — solution, but in the interim, people in communities of color should not pay the brunt of suffering through cold winters.”
- Jackson in February: “I support the call [to ban fracking] with a proper transition. In the meantime, those who are down and out have to have it in the meantime.”
Where it stands: Fracking has unlocked vast reserves of natural gas over the past decade. That’s providing a cheap and relatively cleaner fuel for electricity and heating.
- Lower-income people spend a disproportionate amount of their paychecks on energy. This is especially so in black and Hispanic communities, where poverty rates are higher.
- Environmentalists and progressive Democrats, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, increasingly oppose natural gas and are calling to ban fracking because of its role heating up the planet.
What's happening: “I would not want to cite a specific instance, but generally speaking, people are debating these issues in some instances without consultation with the leaders of the African American communities and neighborhoods affected by these issues,” Morial said.
- “Natural gas is a bit of a bridge fuel. It’s a fuel that we need to have access to because the transition to alternatives is a long-range transition.”
How it works:
- In New England and New York, a handful of natural gas pipelines have been scrapped in recent years, partly due to environmental opposition. This has occurred while those regions have increased their dependence on gas for electricity.
- Those pipelines likely would have helped lower regional winter energy costs, which are usually higher in cold months compared to other parts, per government data.
The other side:
- Tamara Toles O'Laughlin, North America director for 350.org, said: “It is our duty as people who have any measure of privilege to take a position that evokes systematic change, because if we do not, then we’ll all fail.”
- She said 350.org doesn’t have relationships with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition led by Jackson, National Action Network (NAN) led by Sharpton, and Morial’s National Urban League (NUL). “But we are open to it because a lot of our work on energy access and justice overlaps.”
What’s next: Stay tuned for a deeper dive into an Illinois natural gas pipeline project Jackson is backing.