Energy Policy

Civil rights organization says high energy prices disproportionately affecting minorities

As food and gas prices continue to climb, who is being hit the hardest in the United States? During today's OnPoint, the Congress of Racial Equality's Niger Innis argues that minorities are being disproportionately affected by rising energy prices. Innis explains why he believes all forms of energy, including carbon intensive ones, should be used to solve our economic problems. He discusses his organization's call for the reversal of the recent Endangered Species Act listing of the polar bear and gives his thoughts on the effects of emissions reduction legislation on job growth and the economy.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality. Niger's family has headed up CORE since 1968. Niger, thanks for coming on the show.

Niger Innis: My pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: You're in Washington talking to lawmakers about the impact of high energy prices on minorities. You're also launching a new campaign called the War on the Poor. Why are minorities disproportionately affected by energy prices and why are you calling this the new front in the battle for civil rights?

Niger Innis: Well, Monica, as you know, we had a very successful rally, a coalition, a broad coalition. My organization, the Congress of Racial Equality, of course, has been working with minorities since 1942 and under the leadership of our national chairman, Roy Innis, who wrote the book "Energy Keepers, Energy Killers," which is kind of the foundation of this campaign. But the rally that we just held was a brilliant coalition of not just minorities, but a cross-section of Americans, be it farmers, be it veterans, be it civil rights activists, ministers from the church who got out at the pulpit to come all the way from as far as New Orleans and California to come join us in this rally because this is the critical issue of our time. As our national chairman Roy Innis put in his book, "Energy Keepers, Energy Killers," we have won the civil rights revolution. We no longer, no American, because of their color or racial orientation has to sit in the back of the bus. And tragically, while that is a moment for celebration, tragically, many Americans, particularly poor Americans are not able to take advantage and start climbing up that economic ladder, if you will, because of the crisis that we're currently having with energy and the lack of energy supply. What we say, what Mr. Innis has said in his book, what we're saying in our War on the Poor campaign, what we did in our rally yesterday is you heard a diversity of voices from all across this country saying that when you have high energy prices, when you have this increased demand and you don't have a plethora of supply, stop pitting one energy versus another energy. There's some good energies versus bad energies. They're all good. So we came out to say that we need them all and we need more of them and we need them now. That's what the War on the Poor is about, because, one, when you have this increased demand on energy and you have these high of prices, it becomes, Monica, a de facto, regressive tax on the poor. That means that Donald Trump, when he passes by in his big limousine and has high gas prices, that same single mother that is trying to get a job or keep a job and has to fill up her tank, she's paying that same price that Donald Trump is. If that's not regressive tax Monica, I don't know what is and that's why it's a War on the Poor. That's why we had our rally yesterday and that's why we're going to continue this campaign. That's why Mr. Innis wrote his book, "Energy Keepers Energy Killers."

Monica Trauzzi: I want to talk about solutions in a moment.

Niger Innis: Yes.

Monica Trauzzi: But first, you also feel that certain environmental policies, not just our take on energy, but environmental policies also have a disproportionate impact on minorities and the poor. What's being done in name of the environment that you don't see as so positive?

Niger Innis: Well, just this week President Bush made an announcement that he's going to remove the executive ban on offshore drilling. That has been a disaster, the ban on offshore drilling. I mean there's something wrong with our national security balance, or lack thereof, when you have China and Cuba getting ready to drill 80 miles off of the coast of Florida and you have offshore bans that have existed, unfortunately, since the president's father, George W. Bush, that says that we can't drill 300 miles off the coast of Florida. There's something wrong with that picture, something wrong with that picture in terms of national security. There's something wrong with that picture in reference to giving more supply to the American people.

Monica Trauzzi: What about the impact on global warming though? If we drill we're still going to be using oil, which means emissions.

Niger Innis: The fact of the matter is, you know as well as I do Monica, that China is now emitting more, to do more with this global warming, if you will, in their capacity to become developed, if you will, China and India, than the United States is. And the fact is that certain environmentalists talk about global warming, and I'm not going to get into the argument around does global warming exist and is it man-made? Is it disproportionately man-made? I mean some say volcanoes cause more global warming with one volcano than man can in a hundred years. But I'm not going to get into the science of global warming. What I am going to say is that there is a debate within the community, the scientific community number one, but there is no debate when you're driving a car and you see your gas prices going through the roof. You know Monica, just to do this interview, I took the train and, by the way, when it comes to energy prices, there is a terrible spillover effect. It's not just the average consumer. It's not just that single mom, if you will, or poor person or average American driving a car that has to be concerned. I took a train coming down here to do this interview and I see, with my Amtrak ticket, that it is going up dramatically, like 35 percent! Now, I can afford that, I can deal with that, but how about poor people? There are people that are being laid off in the airline industry. Your bags, I'm sure Monica, as you travel the country, your bags are held hostage by the airline because of these high energy prices. The rush, the manic rush to renewables has caused a spillover effect in terms of ethanol and rising food prices. And, again, I keep saying it is a regressive tax and war on the poor because that same high price that you're paying for high energy costs, because of lack of supply, is borne by the poorest percentage of our population as it is by the rich. And just one statistic Monica, very quickly, I think really crystallizes this. The average medium, middle-class family has to pay five cents on the dollar for energy prices. The lower income family has to pay $0.20 on the dollar, $0.20 on the dollar. Do you know what it is for poor people, $0.50, up to $0.50 on the dollar. That's $0.50 on the dollar that is not going to their child's education. That's $0.50 on the dollar not going to food. That's $0.50 on the dollar not going to rent. That's $0.50 on the dollar not going to the bare necessities of life that are going into energy, if you will, to sustain themselves and survive. If that's not a war on the poor, Monica, I don't know what it is.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, I want to break down a couple of the things that you spoke about there and sort of walk through some of the top-tier energy and environment issues that are getting a lot of play in Congress these days. OK, cap-and-trade legislation. What's your take? You mentioned climate change. You didn't want to get into the scientific debate. What's your take on cap-and-trade legislation?

Niger Innis: Well, I tell you, I think you need to have a sound legislative policy, Monica, that does not disproportionately focus on satisfying environmental interests as opposed to the consumer and the American people. The problem that I have with cap-and-trade legislation is that I think it, again, is artificially pressuring government. It is, again, once again, pitting good energies, if you will, oil, natural gas, coal, and saying there are good energies and bad energies. Those energies that I just talked about are bad energies and renewable energies, potential renewable energies, are good energies.

Monica Trauzzi: Well, but in terms of emissions, however, coal is a dirty source of energy. Yes, we have carbon capture and sequestration coming maybe 15 to 20 years from now, but people are talking about emissions here.

Niger Innis: But even when you're talking about renewables, when you're having viable solar energy or viable wind power energy, you're also talking years down the line. And the connection between the so called bad energies, the traditional energies, I won't call them bad. There are no bad energies, but traditional energies are going to be needed as we transfer our economy into getting into the renewables. Look, there is a bill that has just been proposed by Congress, Americans for American Energy Act. It has 30 cosponsors. I know that we are supportive of the effort and we are reaching on both sides of the aisle hoping to get as many Democrats and Republicans to support this important legislation. There are three fundamentals to that legislation. One is increased production. There is no such thing as bad energy. Let's increase production in terms of oil, in terms of natural gas, in terms of coal, clean coal, coal, let's have innovation. Let us promote and give incentives to promote technology so that you can have more sequestration of carbon emissions from coal. We know coal is the cheapest fuel out there and it's plentiful. It's been said that we are the Saudi Arabia, if you will, of coal. And, of course, our conservation. We do believe in programs such as exists in Colorado. I think it's called the ... Program, where there is government assistance to promote conservation. But the bottom line is it's not innovation versus increased production. It is not consumption or reducing consumption or conservation versus increased production. It's the whole ball of wax. It's everything. We have to do more of everything because if you don't and these prices continue to go up it's not only going to have a dramatic impact on our economy, it's going to have a very direct impact on the poorest, most vulnerable members of our population and that is the poor.

Monica Trauzzi: On the global warming front, you're calling for a reversal of the recent Endangered Species Act listing of the polar bear. Why?

Niger Innis: Because the potential that particular act has on any production, I mean it essentially says that the thesis is that if global warming is causing the melting of the polar ice caps, which is putting the polar bear in danger, then anything, theoretically anything, these lights right here, theoretically, that could be connected possibly to increasing global warming, if you will, it's against the law according to the Endangered Species Act. Because these lights right here, our interview right now is putting in danger the polar bear. Now, first of all, our legislative and our courts are going to be flooded with all kinds of environmental groups that are going to be suing based on -- if a church or a school emits any carbon emissions to the atmosphere and that has some type of -- the belief is, the theory, that it has some impact on the melting of the ice caps, which puts the polar bear in danger. My goodness, this thing could spiral out of control and that is cutting against what we're saying, which is, yes, we need conservation. Yes, we need cleaner technologies or we need cleaner energies and the technologies to get us there.

Monica Trauzzi: But you want a combination, you want ...

Niger Innis: Well, we want more production. We have to have it all.

Monica Trauzzi: OK. Are your climate change outreach efforts supported by Exxon Mobil?

Niger Innis: No, they are not. Our climate change outreach, our organization is, I mean, we're a nonprofit organization and you may know the business of being a nonprofit organization, if you're in the business of being a nonprofit organization you need to support from as many different corners and quarters, corporate as well as membership, as you can get. Exxon Mobil is one of many different supporters of the Congress of Racial Equality. Let me tell you, Exxon Mobil stepped up to the plate, along with a variety of other companies, stepped up to the plate to support CORE's anti-malaria efforts. You see, the reason we are so strong on this issue and we are fearful of environmental activists having a disproportionate impact on policy, on having a sound, sensible energy policy, is because we know what happened with malaria. Back in the late 60s, early 70s, Rachel Carson, the godmother, the grandmother they say of the environmental movement Al Gore adores, in fact, he wrote the forward to her book "Silent Spring." Based on something called the precautionary principle which says not that the facts bear that there is some harm to using a pesticide such as DDT, but just on the possibility that there can be some cost to the environment, we ought to ban DDT. After her book was launched it was the catalyst to the environmental movement and it caused the banning, affective banning of DDT, which has cost the lives of millions of people around the world. In particular in sub-Saharan Africa, a million people year die because of malaria that could easily be prevented by spraying these pesticides, by spraying DDT. But because of the environmental mania on this question, it was banned.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. We have a couple more questions I really want to get to.

Niger Innis: Sure.

Monica Trauzzi: We're almost out of time.

Niger Innis: Sure.

Monica Trauzzi: Presidential candidates, that's a hot topic. Who's going to do the best job in getting what you're interested in across? Is there any candidate who you support more strongly?

Niger Innis: Well, you know, we support any candidate that is not cowed by the powerful environmental lobby and understands that his number one constituency is the American people.

Monica Trauzzi: They both say they want to pass climate change legislation.

Niger Innis: Well, you know, climate change legislation is one thing. Making an energy pie that is growing more and more every day, that is not disproportionately affected by the powerful environmental lobby is another. I think that we're going to be putting pressure -- this campaign, which was launched a couple of days ago at our rally on Capitol Hill, is going to continue throughout this election season. We're going to put the candidates on notice that the American people want to be heard on what these people are going to do, not just to satisfy some little environmental lobby, but to satisfy the millions of American people that are affected by these high energy prices and our spiraling economy. The economy, I think, if you look at any top 10 lists, Monica, the environment is, unfortunately, way down the list. The economy and what we're going to do about these high energy prices is usually number one or number two. And that is a priority.

Monica Trauzzi: Many members of Congress are trying to address both at the same time. It will be interesting to see what happens in terms of legislation moving forward.

Niger Innis: We're going to put them both on notice and the Republicans and Democrats on notice. The American people will be heard on this.

Monica Trauzzi: OK.

Niger Innis: Stop the war on the poor.

Monica Trauzzi: We're going to end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Niger Innis: Thank you Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]



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