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What A Good Energy Policy Means For Blacks By Norris McDonald

A good energy policy for blacks would guarantee abundant supplies and low prices. Of course, traditional environmentalists and oil companies like high energy prices, the former to promote conservation, the latter to increase profits and exploration. Unfortunately, blacks do not control any aspect of energy supply and have little control over establishing energy policy. Blacks do not own the oil, gas, coal, electricity, gas pipelines, electricity transmission lines, refineries, tankers, oil fields, outer continental shelf drilling platforms, power plants, or oil, gas and utility companies that distribute energy in the United States. Blacks, who make up 13% of the American population, also do not exert influence from the demand side of energy use. We do not own, distribute nor use energy to our advantage. Blacks must utilize energy policy to become owners and suppliers of energy.

America's energy policies are currently being formulated in national energy legislation pending in the U.S. Congress. A bill has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives --considered a Republican energy plan. A bill is pending in the U.S. Senate (Daschle/Bingaman)-- considered the Democrat energy plan, but is being delayed for consideration because of party disagreement on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). ANWR is a non-issue in the black community. A bill will probably pass by Spring 2002. What will it mean to the Black electorate?

There is a general consensus in the scientific community that global warming and global climate change due to manmade influences are real. Asthma appears to be rising with these changes in our atmosphere. AAEA believes that summer smog is the single worst factor, behind cigarette smoking, in creating respiratory problems in the United States. Rush hour traffic creates these dirty air (nonattainment) days. You can see the air in every major American city during summer months. The 200 million cars and trucks we drive each day are creating unhealthy and even deadly conditions for about 150 million Americans. The great benefit to America is that rush hour literally drives our economy. We can't stop rush hour. We can, however, change the hydrocarbon-based pollution coming from the tailpipes of our vehicles.

America uses 16-17 million barrels of oil every single day. About half of that comes from imports. A significant portion of our imports comes from the Middle East. Although we have about 550 million barrels of oil in our Strategic Petroleum Reserve (underground in Texas and Louisiana), a supply disruption from OPEC and Arab nations would cripple America in a few months. We would use our military to secure the oil we need. This could lead to a global war over oil (World War II started for the same reason). America could be faced with nuclear strikes on its own soil in such a conflict. We are currently threatened with biological, chemical and other forms of attack.

Are there reasonable, profitable ways to clean the air, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and promote industrial development and entrepreneurial opportunities for blacks? The manufacture and comprehensive market penetration of electric vehicles, combined with nuclear-powered electricity supply, are the solutions. It is generally accepted in the scientific community that if America retrofitted to hybrid and all electric vehicles, pollution from hydrocarbon-fueled electric power plants would virtually neutralize the clean air benefits. Nuclear power has safely provided about 1/4th of our national electricity requirements for the past two decades. New, modular nuclear power plants can safely provide the electricity for the electric cars we need to clean the air and reduce our dependence on imported oil.

AAEA is aware of the extreme public fear and misconceptions about nuclear power. The biggest misconception is that these plants can blow up like nuclear warheads. They cannot and have not. The other misconception is that radiation releases pose an unacceptable risk to the public. We submit that this risk is no greater than the risk of transporting gasoline and other hazardous substances in trucks all over the U.S. every day to supply our vehicles, homes and businesses. Tons of hazardous materials ride the highways in 18-wheelers. An estimated 125,000 hazmat trucks roll every day, according to the National Tank Truck Carriers Inc. At least 45,000 of those are gasoline tanker trucks with an average 8,700 gallons on board.

We are in a new America and converting from a petroleum-based economy to an electricity-based economy will enhance our national security. Oil will remain crucial to our overall economy, but it will not be an Achilles Heel in terms of our health and national security. Such a conversion will provide numerous opportunities for African American entrepreneurship. After years of considering and studying nuclear power, it is our opinion that this technology can be operated safely and provides an almost inexhaustible source of power for America. New designs and streamlined procedures should be enacted immediately so that our nation can reap the benefits of this technology. Subsidies for promoting nuclear power should be linked directly to subsidies (dollar-for-dollar) for solar and wind power so that these other viable alternative technologies can also be utilized to maximum advantage. Such a policy would greatly increase opportunities for the Black electorate to participate in energy sector ownership.

Tweny-five percent (25%) of America's black Congressional representatives voted to approve HR 4, the Bush/Cheney Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE) Act. The Democrat (Daschle/Bingamin) energy plan is pending in the U.S. Senate. The CBC supporters included: Bishop (GA), Brown (Fla), Clyburn (SC), Hilliard (Ala), Jackson-Lee (TX), Jefferson (LA), Thompson (MS), Towns (NY) and non-CBC black Republican Watts (OK). Clearly, African Americans have different viewpoints on energy policy. This is evident when 8 of 36 CBC members vote for what is considered to be "industry’s energy bill."

At least five members of the CBC broke ranks to support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the grounds that it would create thousands of jobs. The Democratic leadership, Dick Gephardt, (Missouri), minority leader and David E. Bonior (D-Mich), minority whip, joined the CBC members listed below in opposing increases in automobile fuel efficiency standards in the bill. Representatives Bennie
Thompson of Mississippi, Edolphus Towns of New York, Earl F. Hilliard of Alabama and James E. Clyburn of South Carolina were among Mr. Bush's supporters for drilling and against increased car mileage standards.

How are the House and Senate energy bills advantageous to blacks? The bills are advantageous to the extent that they promote adequate supplies of energy, low energy prices and efficient use of our planet's natural resources. The House bill has several provisions, subsidies and incentives for energy efficiency and automobile fuel economy standards. The Senate energy bill aggressively addresses exploration, production and supply. Both bills address conservation but Democrats are adamant about excluding the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Reserve from oil exploration and production. A compromise will probably produce a decent energy bill. It is unfortunate that the Clinton/Gore administration did not promote a national energy policy during their tenure. Almost any coherent national energy policy will be beneficial to the nation and the black community.

The real action for African Americans in energy policy is not included in the national energy bills. Electricity deregulation has real opportunities for blacks to gain access to ownership and significant participation in the energy business. Although deregulation was botched in California -- they did not really deregulate and partial deregulation combined with an insufficient number of electricity generating plants, led to significant market imperfections and opportunistic price gouging by suppliers. African Americans should aggressively participate in the proposed regional transmission organizations (RTOs), which will ultimately control electricity power sharing all over the country. The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is pressuring States and electric power companies to form RTOs.

The sale, purchase and construction of long-distance electricity transmission lines are other important areas for black ownership and participation. America needs a new, national utility grid similar to our national highway systems that can effectively and efficiently distribute electricity where it is needed without the bottlenecks of the current, inadequate system. Blacks should participate in the construction, ownership, control and regulation of significant portions of these transmission lines.

States have required utilities to sell their generating plants in exchange for deregulation of the industry. These utilities have retained the administration and distribution at the local level in exchange for being allowed to invest in other commercial areas, such as telecommunications. This provides an excellent opportunity for blacks to gain market share. To the extent that smaller generating plants are competitive in a deregulated market, it provides an opportunity for smaller scale minority entrepreneurs to participate in the industry.

Many blacks working in the energy industry are represented by the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE). These blacks employed by the major energy companies, combined with blacks with significant investment dollars, can aggressively participate in energy delivery. Blacks are big consumers of energy. We should also be big producers of energy.

Norris McDonald of the African American Environmentalist Association can be reached via e-mail at:

African American Environmentalist Association

Norris McDonald

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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