By Victor Ochieng
Fueling U.S. Forward, a nonprofit focused on educating the American populace on the value of fossil energy, has made its way to North Carolina’s rural African-American neighborhoods, where it’s offering tuition a scholarship program and connections to beneficiaries after graduation.
The nonprofit receives its funding from Koch Industries, formerly Rock Island Oil & Refining Company, a petrochemicals and oil conglomerate owned by billionaire blood brothers Charles and David Koch. The two have built a reputation for their incessant lobbying for the use of fossil fuels, doing so through funding directed to a network of like-minded organizations located across the country, including Fueling U.S. Forward.
In a bid to reignite fossil fuel use, Fueling U.S. Forward is channeling its attention to mainly rural African-American neighborhoods. This is a deliberate strategy to reach out to more racially minority communities, said Hubbel Relat, Fueling U.S. Forward’s director of outreach. However, Relat couldn’t readily provide instances of some of the beneficiaries of the program.
“Despite how important this industry is to all of our lives and our economy, the African-American communities and a lot of rural communities, in general, are underrepresented and left out of this industry,” Relat said. “A lot of the time they are simply not made aware of the job opportunities in the industry.”
In January this year, the group awarded $1,500 in scholarships to three African-American students from Northwest Halifax High School. The amount was meant to partially sponsor an electrical lineman training course.
“The main goal was to bring a conversation about opportunities that I think a lot of students at this event didn’t realize before,” said Relat. “This big industry exists and they actually can enter it, and it can provide a job for them.”
Bronte Payne, the clean energy associate with Environment North Carolina, is however not supporting the idea of continuing use of fossil fuels.
“I also disagree with training students to be thinking about how to continue using fossil fuels forward as opposed to turning to renewable energy like we know we need to,” she said.
According to Relat, the scope of Fueling U.S. Forward goes beyond giving out scholarships.
“We are also interested in speaking with several different communities that are most impacted by policies that make energy more expensive,” Relat said. “They don’t benefit from a lot of existing government policies and actually might be harmed by higher electricity bills.”
Payne, however, insists that using fossil fuel is an ongoing basis is a health risk likely to cause health problems to many communities.
“Continuing to rely on fossil fuels harms public health all across the country, especially in lower income communities and communities of color,” she said.