Black community members have been asked to rubber-stamp harmful projects for decades, activists say
Pastor Geoffrey Guns was sceptical when asked to join the community advisory board for a gas pipeline, but decided it was his duty to advocate for the Black communities that would be affected by the fossil fuel expansion project.
The Virginia Reliability Project (VRP) is a proposal by the Canadian fossil fuel company behind the Keystone XL pipeline to expand and upgrade gas infrastructure through tribal lands, fragile waterways and underserved neighbourhoods in south-east Virginia.
Almost 50% of the population along the VRP route live below the poverty line and more than half are people of colour.
TC Energy claims the expansion will create thousands of local jobs and that community engagement is core to the company’s mission. For this reason, Guns, a senior pastor at the Second Calvary Baptist church in Norfolk, joined the advisory board along with several other local Black religious leaders.
“If they’re asking us to rubber-stamp this, then there should be economic benefits for Black folks and minorities. But all we heard was talk without any actual commitment to equity in contracts for minorities,” said Guns.
On the VRP website, under a tab labelled community voices, TC Energy lists endorsements from influential figures, including Black state-elected officials who praise the economic benefits promised by the company for communities of colour.
Several of the community voices received financial contributions from the company and its registered lobbying firm, which is legal but not mentioned. The views of the community advisers are not listed.
“The whole thing feels very disingenuous, as clearly the company is not really interested in our advice on safety or guaranteeing opportunities for minority businesses. I am very disappointed. This is a bunch of white people with some Black faces sprinkled in. I feel absolutely used and violated,” said Guns.
It’s not the first time fossil fuel companies have looked to influential Black leaders to smooth the way for polluting oil and gas projects that disproportionately affect people of colour, Indigenous communities and low-income neighbourhoods.