Friday, November 9, 2007

Who Gets Hurt with High Energy Prices? Who Creates Them?

When you spend all day, every day, focused on energy, it is easy to think you have the bases pretty well covered. Therefore, when something new comes along, it catches your attention. Such was the case when the following posting landed in CARE’s in-box. It is easy to get so consumed looking at energy sources, alternative options, and possible climate change mandates that you overlook the immediate impact on society—today. This report looks at the Congressional Black Caucus and the effect rising energy prices have on the poor and minority families in America. Even if you can afford to heat your home this winter and fill your tank at the current prices, think about the cumulative results decades of legislators, regulators, judges and pressure groups have heaped on those who are less fortunate. Remember them when you encourage your lawmakers in one direction or another. Think of America’s poor and minority families when you cast your vote for president in the upcoming primary elections.

For a side-by-side comparison of the leading candidates’ positions on energy, please check out CARE’s November e-newsletter.

An Opportunity Squandered
The Congressional Black Caucus is shortchanging poor and minority energy consumers
A recent Congressional Black Caucus Foundation conference in Washington featured an “energy braintrust.” It promised a lively three-hour discussion by oil company, association, government agency and university executives, to “transform dialogue into action” and “bolster the relationships between the energy industry and African-American community.”

Sadly, the session moderator squandered the opportunity. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas knows the oil business and recognized that “energy is the foundation of our economy, the engine that drives the world.” But she arrived 40 minutes late, then posed for photos and bemoaned oil industry shortcomings. By the time she introduced the speakers, the session was half over.

The first panelist noted that many “public policy barriers” restrict exploration, production and delivery of needed energy. Several said more minorities and minority businesses must be involved in the energy industry, while others noted that US laws and policies raise energy prices, make excellent prospects off limits to drilling, and reduce opportunities for businesses and employment.

Rep. Lee did not pick up on any of these critical issues. Instead, she nodded as her “good friend,” the CEO of CITGO Petroleum, extolled Hugo Chavez and offered platitudes about “building bridges” between Venezuela and poor US communities.

After each talk, Mrs. Lee introduced other “good friends” in the audience – and her son, who “needs a job” – frittering away more time. The session ended with virtually no attempt (or time) to analyze the shortcomings of current US energy policies.

An hour later, presidential aspirant Senator Barack Obama declaimed that climate change is the most serious threat facing African-American families, and “environmental justice” demands that factories not be built in minority communities, because they might pollute.

The message was a politically correct regurgitation of Democratic Party and Sierra Club talking points. It was the same deficient analysis that brought us child welfare mothers “raising” children in fatherless families, schools ruled by incivility and violence, and uneducated youths suited for gangs but not jobs.

African America cries out for thoughtful leadership. Our country hungers to embrace a strong black candidate for national public office. Instead, our Black Caucus marches in lockstep with activists and legislators whose policies are disastrous for low income and minority families.

Energy is the “master resource,” on which everything else depends. Abundant, reliable, affordable electricity, natural gas and transportation fuels make our jobs, health and living standards possible. They are the great equalizer, the creator of economic opportunities and true environmental justice.

Lock those resources up--cripple our energy sector with taxes, over-regulation, and ill-advised laws that make heating, driving and manufacturing more costly--and the poor suffer most. Destroy jobs, or make poor families pay an ever larger portion of their meager incomes for energy, food and clothing--and the hard-won victories for civil rights are quickly reversed.

Keep businesses out of neighborhoods blighted by slum dwellings and brownfields, and you take away jobs, health insurance, a stronger tax base for schools, environmental cleanups and a chance for the American dream. Lock up oil, gas and coal prospects, and there will be fewer job opportunities even in companies that are committed to diversity.

The Kyoto Protocol would reduce average global temperatures by 0.2 degrees by 2050. Pending congressional bills might achieve a 0.05 degree reduction – assuming CO2 drives climate change, which numerous scientists doubt. These symbolic gestures would raise energy prices for no environmental benefit.

America could get 20 billion gallons of gasoline a year from an area 1/20 the size of Washington, DC, in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Instead, lawmakers exult over getting 5 billion gallons of ethanol from an area the size of Indiana, and using some 4 billion gallons of fossil fuel to grow, harvest, process and transport the corn. Some want 15 billion barrels of corn-ethanol by 2022.

Legislators, regulators, judges and pressure groups have made a decade’s worth of oil and natural gas off limits. They’ve helped drive up energy costs more than $1000 per family since 2000, and caused every barrel saved through efficiency and conservation to be offset by oil locked up on questionable ecological grounds.

These energy deniers want to shackle the fossil fuel system we have, and replace it with a utopian system that isn’t even on the drawing boards.

This isn’t energy policy or environmental justice. It’s feel-good grandstanding. It would replace our free enterprise system with one based on government dictates, mandates, subsidies, and decisions about which companies, technologies and lobbyists win … and how much more consumers must pay.

These issues demand serious, robust debate. But the CBC isn’t even asking the right questions – much less providing leadership and challenging dominant liberal dogmas. The path it is taking betrays the gains that generations of civil rights champions fought so hard to achieve.
Let us hope this election season generates the healthy debate we so sorely need.

Roy Innis is national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, one of America’s oldest and most respected civil rights groups.

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