Oil Sands Get Nod From U.S. Anti-Poverty Group

Commentary, Energy, Environment, Frontier Centre, Worth A Look

CALGARY • Support for Canada’s oil sands is coming from an unexpected American group — an anti-poverty coalition led by African-American civil rights and faith leaders.

The group is waging a national campaign targeting 50 “extreme” environmental organizations and 100 U.S. politicians it says are restricting energy supplies through climate-change legislation, causing oil prices to spike to levels that are “strangling” the poor.

Niger Innis, co-chairman of the “Stop The War On The Poor” campaign and national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of the oldest civil rights groups in the United States, said the alliance wants more oil from Canada’s vast unconventional deposits.

“We favour any and every energy source,” he said in an interview. “We do not believe in this artificial game that the radicals play of pitting the so-called bad energy versus good energy. All energy, when prices are as high as they are, which is such a critical resource and the lifeblood of a nation’s economy and the survival of people, is good energy as far as we are concerned.”

The alliance’s views are in stark contrast to policies embraced in recent months by U.S. politicians to restrict imports of Canada’s “dirty oil.”

They include California’s move to a low-carbon fuel standard by the end of the year, a resolution by mayors of the largest cities in the United States last month singling out the oil sands as part of a crackdown on fuels that cause global warming, and a federal law adopted last December by the U.S. federal government that bans procurement of alternative fuels that generate more greenhouse gases than “conventional sources.”

Even presidential hopeful Barack Obama has said he would break America’s addiction to “dirty, dwindling and dangerously expensive” oil if elected. The group challenged the top-ranking black representative in the U.S. Congress, Jim Clyburn, to a debate today in Washington, where Mr. Clyburn is launching a new commission to engage AfricanAmericans on climate change.

Mr. Innis said AfricanAmericans are more concerned about high energy prices, but many U.S. politicians are “being cowered by a very powerful, well-funded environmental extremist lobby that has a great deal of influence over them, and a great deal of influence over policy.”

The alliance’s strategy involves “outing” the extremist groups and the politicians it says are doing their bidding.

Its first targets, announced on the campaign’s Web site, are California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council, a top anti-oil-sands crusader.

Policies that restrict energy development are hurting America’s poor more than any other sector of society, forcing them to make “horrible choices between food, fuel and medicine,” the alliance said in a news release yesterday. The alliance says it also represents a large cross-section of America’s economically disadvantaged, from Latinos to farmers to consumer advocates.

Poor families spend as much as 50¢ out of every dollar of their income on energy, in contrast with 5¢ allocated by the average, median-income family, the alliance said. Energy prices are also one of the biggest causes of homelessness, it said.

The other co-chairman of the campaign is Bishop Harry Jackson, an African-American and the senior pastor of the Hope Christian Church in the Washington, D.C., area.

Americans for American Energy (AAE), a group advocating greater American energy independence, is also heading the effort.

“We certainly support the oil sands,” said Cody Stewart, a spokesman for AAE, led by Wyoming State Senator Bill Vasey, Colorado State Senator Bill Cadman and Utah State Representative Aaron Tilton.

While the alliance’s primary focus is to increase American supplies, it also favours taking a broader North American approach, he said.

“Anything that is produced here, or close to us, will help reduce prices and help the overall agenda to stop the war on the poor and bring costs down,” Mr. Stewart said.

The message is similar to that made by U.S. oil companies, which for years have advocated lifting restrictions on oil and gas development in protected areas to boost secure domestic supplies.