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.

Roy Innis

Roy Innis is national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of America’s oldest and most respected civil rights groups, and a life-long advocate of economic development rights for poor families and communities around the world.