An opportunity squandered
By Roy Innis
The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation recently hosted its annual legislative conference in Washington. A keynote session – billed as an "energy braintrust" – promised a lively three-hour discussion by top executives from oil companies, associations, government agencies and universities. It would "transform dialogue into action" and "bolster the relationships between the energy industry and African-American community."
Unfortunately, the session moderator squandered the opportunity and failed to explore ways America's energy policies could be improved.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas knows the oil business and stressed that "energy is the foundation of our economy, the engine that drives the world." But she showed up 40 minutes late, posed for photos, bemoaned oil industry shortcomings, and only then 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, but nodded as her "good friend," the CEO of CITGO Petroleum, extolled Hugo Chavez's generosity to Katrina victims and pontificated about "building bridges" between Venezuela and poor US communities.
Most speakers kept to five minutes, to leave time for questions and debate. But after each talk, Mrs. Lee introduced various "good friends" in the audience – and her son, who "needs a job" – frittering away more time.
There was little dialogue, much less an effort to analyze US energy needs or improve industry-community relationships.
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 politically correct, reminiscent of Democratic Party and Sierra Club talking points. But 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.
These are critical issues. African America cries out for thoughtful leadership. Our country hungers to embrace a strong black candidate for national public office. Instead, our Black Caucus mouths platitudes and 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, or 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 in our struggle for civil rights will quickly be reversed.
Keep businesses out of neighborhoods blighted by slum dwellings and brownfields, and you take away jobs, health insurance, a stronger tax base for better 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. The bills are symbolic gestures that 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.
Legislators, regulators, judges and pressure groups have made billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of 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 efficient 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.