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.
Pastor Geoffrey Guns. Photograph: Courtesy Geoffrey Guns
“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.