By Evlondo Cooper 

In late August 2015, I traveled to the Columbus, Ohio, event, “The Impacts of Ozone Regulations on Jobs in Our Community,” sponsored by the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, featuring Harry C. Alford.

It was actually my second attempt to interview NBCC President Harry Alford. My first attempt was in Miami at the NBCC national conference. There, Mr. Alford told me that the negative health impacts of coal plant pollution on many black families were “speculation,” and he challenged me to produce documentation.

I went to Columbus with the express purpose of showing Mr. Alford a study by the Clean Air Task Force detailing the disproportionate harm that fossil fuel pollution has on communities of color.

Alford’s response this time: “I don’t have time for no damn study! I got stuff to do.”

Lack of Transparency

Why seek answers from Mr. Alford? Because he has long promoted flawed and discredited studies to tout the benefits of fossil fuels for communities of color, while refusing to share basic information about his organization, such as funders, staff or consultants. In short, he has sought credibility and profile without transparency.

Checks and Balances Project believed it was important to provide him with the opportunity to clarify his support for an industry that harms the very community he says he wants to help.

Science is Clear

Black families who live within a 3-mile radius of a coal plant suffer higher rates of asthma, bronchitis and heart disease.

As I headed to Columbus, I thought that if Mr. Alford had an opportunity to examine the study I brought he’d consider the possibility that he’d been wrong – despite the significant funding and sponsorship the NBCC has received from ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and other fossil fuel sources.

But as the video shows, Mr. Alford couldn’t be bothered with inconvenient questions. He was in a rush to join a panel with representatives from Hightowers Petroleum Company, the American Petroleum Institute and the Ohio Chemistry Technology Council, among others.

The NBCC claims that it is “dedicated to economically empowering and sustaining African American communities. . . .” However, with the dollar value of coal’s negative health consequences likely more than $100 billion per year – including hospitalization, lost workdays and mortality – it’s clear that fossil fuels are neither empowering the physical nor the financial health of communities of color.


Evlondo Cooper, is a senior fellow with the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.