Fossil Fuel Industry Pollutes Black And Brown Communities

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Above: Creative Commons Photos: Shell Gas Station (Mike Mozart); Chase (longislandwins); Chevron (Roo Reynolds); Wells Fargo (Mike Mozart); BlackRock (Thomas Hawk).

While Propping Up Racist Policing.

As movements for racial and environmental justice escalate across the US, these struggles – which, as groups like the National Black Environmental Justice Network point out, must be seen as one – have a common foe: the fossil fuel industry. The same companies that drive environmental racism in Black and Brown communities through toxic and climate-changing pollution also fund police power in cities that stretch from Houston and Detroit to New Orleans and Salt Lake City.

Oil and gas companies, private utilities, and financial institutions that bankroll fossil fuels are all big backers of police foundations, which privately raise money to buy weapons, equipment, and surveillance technology for police departments, bypassing already outsized public police budgets. These corporate actors – from Chevron and Shell to Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase – can be found serving as directors and funders of police foundations nationwide. Furthermore, these companies sponsor events and galas that celebrate the police and remind the public that police power is backed up by corporate power.

Fossil fuel companies, utilities, and the banks that fund them are prominent political players in any local or regional power structure. These companies, which rely on extraction and exploitation to secure their profits, have an incentive to form tight bonds with police forces, which function to uphold and protect their interests in the face of community opposition. In many states, these companies go so far as to back laws to criminalize protests of dirty energy projects such as pipelines, openly weaponizing the police and criminal justice system to protect the profits of the fossil fuel industry and the banks that fund them.

This symbiotic relationship between the fossil fuel industry and police often means that the companies that are polluting Black and Brown communities – like Marathon Petroleum in Detroit, Valero in Corpus Christi, or Shell in Louisiana –  are the same ones that are aligned with and propping up police forces in these same cities. This is why divesting from fossil fuels and fighting to end environmental racism goes hand in hand with defunding the police in the fight for racial justice and reinvestment in Black and Brown communities.

Fossil fuel companies

Fossil fuel companies support police foundations across the country, especially in major oil producing states such as Texas and Louisiana. A few of the most prominent Big Oil backers of police foundations include:

  • Chevron, one of the top integrated oil and gas companies in the world, with a market capitalization value that ranked only behind ExxonMobil at the end of 2019. The fifth biggest US refiner, Chevron is a top polluter that owns two of the top six benzene-emitting refineries in the US. Chevron’s refineries are the targets of numerous environmental justice fights. For example, in Richmond, California, community residents have fought for years against the power, pollution, and environmental racism of Chevron, which owns a major refinery in the city made up of 80% people of color.Chevron is a “Corporate Partner of the Police” sponsor of the New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation, as well as a board member of the Houston Police Foundation and sponsor of the Houston Police Department’s mounted patrol. It is also donor to and, as of the end of 2018, a board member of the Salt Lake City Police Foundation.
  • Marathon Petroleum, the nation’s largest oil refining company, has a history of environmental pollution that disproportionately impacts the health of Black and Brown communities where their refineries are based. Sine 2000 Marathon has been fined over $1.4 billion for various environmental, consumer, and workplace violations.The company operates 16 refineries around the country, including a notorious 250-acre refinery in a Detroit, Michigan community that is 71% Black. Since 2013 Marathon’s Detroit refinery has received 15 violations from the state environmental regulator for surpassing state and federal emissions limits. In 2019 the refinery leaked a “gasoil” mixture that created a toxic vapor cloud that sent workers to the hospital.Marathon’s Security Coordinator sits on the board of the Detroit Public Safety Foundation, the city’s police foundation. Marathon is also listed as a “Commanding Sponsor” of the foundation’s fundraising event “Above & Beyond” and a “Bronze Sponsor” of their “Women in Blue” event.

  • Shell, one of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world and a major global emitter of carbon pollution. It is building a huge ethane cracker plant near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that some feel could start to turn Appalachia into the next “Cancer Alley” – the nickname for the New Orleans-to-Baton Rouge corridor of Louisiana refineries, where Shell is also a major polluter. Cancer Alley runs through several Black communities that face extremely high rates of pollution and cancer – largely believed to be caused by refining and petrochemical operations.Shell is a “Featured Partner” of the New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation and a sponsor of the Houston Police Department’s Mounted Patrol.
  • Valero is the second biggest oil refining company in the US. Its Corpus Christi East refinery – part of the city’s “Refinery Row,” where a slew of refineries sit near predominantly poor, Black, and Brown communities – is a top emitter of benzene. Valero has a board seat on the Corpus Christi Police Foundation’s board of directors, and it is a sponsor of the Houston Police Department’s Mounted Patrol.
  • Hilcorp, headquartered in Houston, Texas, is one of the largest privately-held oil drillers in the country and is best known for buying older oil and gas fields from other producers in order to extract any remaining product. The company is also known for racking up environmental violations. From 2012 to 2015 Hilcorp’s Alaska operation had 25 documented violations of environmental regulations including allowing a gas pipeline on the seafloor to leak methane rather than stop production until a repair was possible. In Ohio, Hilcorp’s drilling practices were blamed for dozens of earthquakes, while in Louisiana they have been responsible for several oil spills and destroyed oyster beds in an already vulnerable coastal community.Hilcorp’s billionaire co-founder and Chairman Jeff Hildebrand has a board seat on the Houston Police Foundation and is a notable attendee of their fundraising events.

Other fossil fuel companies also support police foundations. For example, Energy Transfer Partners, one of the companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, is a listed sponsor of the Friends of the Dallas Police, while Aramco, Cabot Oil & Gas, and several companies profiled below sponsor the Houston Police’s Mounted Patrol Department.

Utility companies

Utility companies are some of the dirtiest and most dangerous polluters in the country. According to a 2019 benchmarking report backed by several utility companies, the 100 largest utilities accounted for 80% of measurable air emissions in the United States. Another 2019 study found that Black communities disproportionately suffer health issues, including respiratory and cardiovascular damage, and face a higher risk of death from the fine particulate emissions that come from power plants.

Utilities nationwide are prominent players in local power structures, which means they often also hold roles in local police foundations as board members and donors. Here are some other major utility companies that back police foundations:

  • Detroit Edison (DTE) is an electric utility company headquartered in Detroit, Michigan. DTE’s Director of Corporate and Government Affairs sits on the board of the Detroit Public Safety Foundation, the city’s police foundation. DTE sponsors the foundation’s events such as the Above & Beyond Awards and donates directly through its own DTE Energy Foundation, giving $138,000 between 2014 and 2018.Around 65% of the energy produced at DTE comes from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel to burn. In May 2020 DTE was forced to pay a $1.8 million civil penalty and agree to spend $5.5 million on air quality mitigation projects as part of a settlement with the EPA over violations of the Clean Air Act.
    • Exelon is a publicly-traded energy company headquartered in Chicago and the largest utility in the country with eight subsidiaries. Exelon is a major political player and a prolific donor to police foundations where it and its subsidiaries operate, giving to foundations in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington D.C. For example, in Baltimore County, BGE, a subsidiary of Exelon, has a seat on the police foundation board and is a gold level sponsor.Exelon is currently embroiled in a major lobbying scandal in its home state of Illinois for allegedly hiring in exchange for political favors. It has been charged with bribery and has agreed to pay a $200 million fine. In 2019 the company agreed to pay $200 million over 50 years to settle a lawsuit over pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
    • Entergy is a publicly-traded, Fortune 500 company headquartered in Louisiana that also services parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas. Entergy is arguably the most powerful corporate force in Louisiana, with presences on prominent chambers, business associations, philanthropic organizations, and even charter school advocacy groups across the state. Entergy is a “Featured Partner” of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation with top billing on the foundation’s sponsors page.In 2018 Entergy made headlines after it paid actors $60-200 dollars to pose as grassroots supporters at a City Council meeting that was considering the company’s proposed gas-fired power plant in New Orleans East, home to a large Vietnamese community. The resulting scandal, lawsuit, and city council investigation prompted the Entergy New Orleans CEO to step down.

  • Georgia Power is the largest subsidiary of Southern Company, which was ranked the second most polluting power company by the Los Angeles Times in 2019. Georgia Power is a major supporter of the Atlanta Police Foundation and has one representative on its Board of Trustees and two representatives on its “Young Executives Board.” In addition to its board seats, Georgia Power sponsors the Foundation’s numerous fundraising events including “A Night in Blue,” “Blue Jean Ball,” “Crime is Toast Breakfast,” and “Link Up Against Crime Golf Tournament.” The company made a direct $500,000 donation to the foundation in 2016.A 2018 investigation by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice found that 11 of Georgia’s 12 coal-powered plants were contaminating groundwater with toxic pollutants. Ten of those plants belonged to Georgia Power.
  • Duke Energy is a publicly-traded electric power company headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina and is a bronze level sponsor of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Foundation. Duke was ranked the number one polluting power company in the county by the Los Angeles Times in 2019. In 2015 Duke was sued over a major coal ash leak in North Carolina and in 2020 was forced to agree to the largest environmental cleanup in US history. Duke still owns the coal-fired Gallagher plant in West Louisville, Kentucky where over 30% of nearby residents suffer from environment-related illnesses. Duke was the second largest owner of the recently abandoned Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.

Other utilities also back police foundations. For example, mega-utility and top owner of the now-cancelled Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion Energy, has a seat on the board of the Richmond Police Foundation and is a donor to the Salt Lake City Police Foundation, while NV Energy has a board seat on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Foundation and sponsors its fundraising events.

Financial institutions

Fossil fuel companies depend on major financial institutions – such as banks, asset managers, and insurance companies – to prop up their oil, gas, and coal operations. Many of these same firms that are financing our climate crisis and environmental racism are also helping to bankroll and support police foundations across the US. Demands to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in a just transition, and to defund the police and reinvest in Black and Brown communities, have some common targets: big banks and financial institutions. Some of the largest fossil fuel financiers that donate to these private foundations include:

  • JPMorgan Chase is the top global financier of fossil fuels, funneling over a quarter-trillion dollars towards oil, gas, and coal between 2016 and 2019, according to the 2020 Banking on Fossil Fuels report. Former ExxonMobil CEO and chairman Lee Raymond, who has a long record of climate denialism, has served on the board of JPMorganChase and its predecessor for over three decades. Climate organizers have been campaigning to fully remove Raymond from the board.JPMorgan Chase serves as a sponsor – a “Corporate Partner of Police,” officially – of the New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation, which uses corporate donations to fund things like surveillance technology and the recruitment and training of police. JPMorgan also occupies the Secretary/Treasurer position on the foundation’s board. The bank’s donor relationship to police foundations also goes far back: nearly a decade ago, JPMorgan garnered scrutiny for its huge $4.6 million donation to the NYC Police Foundation for “security upgrades, including new patrol car laptops and security monitoring software for the department’s main data center,” according to Police Magazine. Organizers have recently staged protests against JPMorgan Chase  in Chicago, demanding reparations after a new report revealed egregious racial disparities in the bank’s mortgage lending practices in the city.
    • Wells Fargo is the second biggest global banker behind fossil fuels, with nearly $198 billion in financing between 2016 and 2019. The scandal-ridden bank has a slew of ties to police foundations. It is a platinum sponsor and has two board seats with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Foundation. It is also a partner and donor to the Seattle Police Foundation, a director and sponsor of the Atlanta Police Foundation, and a donor to the Salt Lake City Police Foundation. Moreover, when it comes to financial ties to racist practices and institutions, Wells Fargo coziness with the police is just one example: the bank has been involved in discriminatory lending, propping up private prisons, and much more (for more information, check out the ACRE’s Forego Wells campaign).

  • Bank of America is the fourth biggest global financier of fossil fuels, with nearly $157 billion between 2016 and 2019 channeled toward oil, gas, and coal. Along with being a lender to some of the most controversial US pipeline projects, Bank of America also played a key advising role in Occidental’s acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum last year, the biggest oil merger in years. Bank of America also had the biggest increase in financing fossil fuels from 2018 to 2019 – $13.1 billion – of any bank globally, according to the 2020 Banking on Climate Change report.Bank of America is a sponsor of the Philadelphia Police Foundation and has seats on the Chicago, NYC, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police foundation boards. Its charitable arm has given $200,000 to the NYC Police Foundation, $51,250 to the Atlanta Police Foundation, $25,000 to the Boston Police Foundation, $10,000 to the Los Angeles Police Foundation, and smaller donations to police foundations in Sarasota, Duluth, Sacramento, and elsewhere. Bank of America’s ties to racist practices go beyond its donations to policing – just last year it agreed to pay a $4.2 million “in back wages and interest to resolve alleged hiring discrimination violations found at several of the bank’s facilities,” according to the US Department of Labor.
  • BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager and remains one of the biggest global investors in oil, gas, and coal. According to a 2019 Guardian report, BlackRock has $87.3 billion invested in fossil fuel companies through its listed portfolio funds. The Guardian report also notes that BlackRock has “routinely opposed motions at fossil fuel companies that would have forced directors to take more action on climate change, the analysis reveals.” And even as BlackRock has gestured towards more climate accountability with companies BlackRock invests in, some have criticized the limited extent of these measures and the firm’s overall credibility on climate issues.BlackRock’s Larry Fink is a big supporter of the one of the most powerful police foundations in the US, the NYC Police Foundation. Not only is Fink a donor to the foundation, but he has also co-chaired its annual gala from 2016 to 2019. Color of Change, which calls itself “the nation’s largest online racial justice organization,” is currently demanding that Fink and BlackRock stop supporting the foundation.
  • Morgan Stanley, the 11th biggest global financier of fossil fuels from 2016 to 2018, has close ties to police foundations. Two of its executives togetherchaired the 2019 NYC Police Foundation Gala, which honored its chairman and CEO, James Gorman. Morgan Stanley is represented on the board of the Atlanta Police Foundation and numerous other police foundation boards (from Jupiter, Florida, to Long Beach, California), and is a Bronze Sponsor of the Charlotte Police Foundation. Morgan Stanley also has a seat on the Greenville (South Carolina) Police Foundation board.A former Morgan Stanley executive who served 16 years as the bank’s global head of diversity is now suing the firm, “alleging racial bias for silencing and retaliating against employees who sought to make it more inclusive,” with her lawsuit claiming that the company had a “toxic workplace culture for employees of color,” according to the Washington Post.

A host of other financial institutions also support police foundations. For example, Goldman Sachs, the 14th biggest financier of fossil fuels from 2016 to 2018, is a big backer of police foundations. It gave $250,000 to the Los Angeles Police Foundation and $15,000 to the NYC Police Foundation in 2018, co-chaired the NYC Police Foundation’s 2019 Gala, and is a donor to the Salt Lake City Police Foundation.

In sum, many of the most powerful oil and gas companies, private utilities, and financial institutions that drive environmental injustice are also backers of the same police departments – through their funding, sponsoring, and governing of police foundations – that tyrannize the very communities these corporate actors pollute. As demands continue to rise to defund the police and reinvest in Black and Brown communities, as well as to divest from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in environmental justice and a just transition, the fossil fuel industry power structure presents a common foe for these interconnected fights.