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Fossil fuel advocacy campaign offers scholarships to African-American students

A national fossil fuel advocacy campaign has made its way into rural African-American communities of North Carolina, providing a tuition scholarship and connections after graduation. 

Fueling U.S. Forward is a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate the public on the value of American fossil fuel energy. The group is funded by Koch Industries, an oil and petrochemicals conglomerate owned by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. 

The Koch brothers promote the use of fossil fuels and do so through funding a network of organizations across the nation, like Fueling U.S. Forward. In an effort to prompt a fossil fuel resurgence, Fueling U.S. Forward is directing campaign attention to primarily rural African-American communities.

Hubbel Relat, the director of outreach for Fueling U.S. Forward, said Fueling U.S. Forward is making an effort to reach diverse racial minority communities — though he could not provide examples of scholarship recipients of other cultural backgrounds. 

“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.” 

On Jan. 21, 2017, the organization awarded three African-American students from Northwest Halifax High School $1,500 in scholarships meant to subsidize the cost of an electrical lineman training program. 

“The main goal was to bring a conversation about opportunity that I think a lot of students at this event didn’t realize before,” said Relat, who awarded the scholarships to the students in person. “This big industry exists and they actually can enter it, and it can provide a job for them.”

But Bronte Payne, the clean energy associate with Environment North Carolina, disagrees with the 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. 

Relat said the efforts of Fueling U.S. Forward are broader than the scholarship event. 

“We are also interested in speaking with several different communities that are most impacted by policies that makes 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.”

But Payne said fossil fuels create health problems for 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. 

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