This article first appeared at Investors Business Daily
The NAACP recently published a paper with a dramatic claim: “African-Americans face a disproportionate risk of health problems from pollution caused by the oil and gas industry.”
It generated many headlines. But it’s deeply misleading.
Instead of acknowledging the complex factors that cause health problems in minority communities, the paper’s authors point a collective finger at energy firms. Health issues among the African-American community deserve our best research and full-attention, not a sloppy attempt at scapegoating.
By failing to establish a causal link between energy facilities and health issues, the NAACP study breaks the first rule taught in “Statistics 101.”
The authors claim that because oil and gas facilities are located near many African American communities, the facilities must be responsible for these communities’ health issues.
But proximity doesn’t prove causation. The report fails to account for other potential culprits. It doesn’t use the phrase “control group” once.
Several socio-economic factors exacerbate respiratory health issues in communities of color. For instance, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America blames indoor allergens and inconsistent use of medication for the higher prevalence of asthma among minorities.
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The NAACP report also uses unreliable data. It pulls information from Environmental Protection Agency databases that the EPA itself admits should “be used cautiously, as the overall quality and uncertainties of the assessment will vary from location to location as well as from pollutant to pollutant.”
And it conveniently leaves out case studies that don’t support its thesis. Consider that asthma hospitalizations among African Americans in Pennsylvania are declining, even as the state’s natural gas production booms.
The report ignores energy firms’ role in improving air quality. Over the past two decades, the oil and natural gas industry dished out $320 billion to make its facilities, operations, and products more environmentally friendly.
That investment is paying off. After analyzing the emissions of every U.S. refinery, the EPA concluded that current regulations adequately protect the American public from harmful emissions.
Americans are breathing the cleanest air in decades thanks to the oil and natural gas industry. Power plants have reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by 25% since 2005, mainly by switching from coal to natural gas. Natural gas burns far cleaner than coal.
Natural gas production has increased 50% since 1990. Yet methane emissions — the main component in smog — from natural gas production have dropped 16%.
Hiring For Diversity
The oil and natural gas industry isn’t hurting African-American communities — it’s helping them. African Americans occupy tens of thousands of jobs in the energy industry.
And women and minorities will account for 700,000 of the 1.9 million hires the energy industry will make by 2035.
That’s good news for minority communities. The average oil and natural gas industry worker makes a hefty $100,000 a year. Rising incomes will help increase people’s access to medical treatment and alleviate the socio-economic burdens that harm minorities’ health.
The oil and natural gas industry isn’t a foe of African American communities; it’s a staunch ally. The sooner the NAACP realizes that, the better.
- Washington is a decorated Air Force Veteran, an Emmy nominated TV personality, and the host of the nationally syndicated radio program “Stacy on the Right.”