On Wednesday, January 14, over a dozen nationally-known, civil rights and religious leaders from around the country descended on Salt Lake City, Utah to voice a public complaint against Hollywood icon, Robert Redford. The protestors included Niger Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Dr. Cal Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance, Bishop Philip Porter (former chairman of Promise Keepers), and a host of other bishops and ministers. I joined the group because I believe that no one is currently speaking to the needs of the poor with regard to America’s evolving energy policies.
Radical environmental groups believe the country should produce less energy, driving prices up in order to force energy conservation. While higher energy costs will not bankrupt the average or median income family because they devote only a nickel of every dollar of their income to energy costs, the average low-income family spends 20 - 50% of their dollar for energy.
We are convinced that higher energy prices discriminate against the poor. Some answer by saying we should give the poor handouts. The poor people we talk to don’t want handouts - they want a hand-up. They don’t want an energy welfare system; they want to be able to afford the necessities of life, like everyone else. Therefore, the key to affordable energy is making sure we produce enough energy to meet the needs of all Americans. This means developing safer nuclear energy and more clean natural gas, domestic oil, wind power, and clean coal.
If we realize that energy is the master resource of modern society, it is easy to see how limited access to energy ensnares the poor in a viscous economic trap. Energy policy discussions should no longer be the exclusive territory of scientists and geeks, but become a major concern of civil rights activists. Policies that restrict access to America’s abundant energy by driving up prices could roll back the financial advancement of black and Hispanic Americans. These wrong-headed policies could cause widespread layoffs, leaving unemployed workers and their families struggling to survive, as the cost of everything they eat, drive, wear, and do spirals out of control.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.