The seventh Democratic debate got underway this week, and it was another echo chamber among the candidates on several important policy issues, including energy production. And even though increased energy production has cut costs for families — at the pump and in-home utility bills. With little exception, the Democratic candidates have adopted the same extreme platform in favor of banning offshore oil and natural gas production. While anti-energy and anti-offshore policies are bad news for America, they are especially troubling for many African American communities.
Energy bans do nothing to help our country, they only force hardworking American families to look to elsewhere — to countries like Russia and Iran — to meet their energy demands. Along with higher energy prices, energy bans will mean jobs and economic growth flow overseas with hard-earned dollars. An energy reality of foreign dependence, which is already seen in states like California and Massachusetts, is a bleak future that the Democratic candidates should fight against.
Instead, the candidates who want to ban offshore oil and gas development are not just isolated among the extreme fringes of the Democratic field, they are mainstream politics for Democratic candidates. Each of the front running candidates has unveiled their own plan to lock away new offshore oil and gas leasing.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said she would place a “total moratorium” on offshore leasing on the first day of her presidency. Former Vice President Joe Biden has said he was willing to “sacrifice” high-paying and accessible oil and natural gas jobs. Sen. Bernie Sanders has said oil and natural gas executives should be “criminally prosecuted.” Rhetoric calling for blanket energy bans should be thoroughly rejected.
Reduced American energy production would mean devastatingly higher energy costs for American families. In many communities, energy burdens make up a much higher percentage of families’ monthly budget. Transportation costs are much higher for low-income families. The average household in the U.S. spends 20% of its income on transportation. For low-income households, this figure can be high as 30%. The same trend holds true for household energy costs. A 2015 Department of Energy report found that 25 million American households skipped food and medicine to pay for energy, with 7 million reporting they did so every month.
In states like South Carolina and Georgia, the black unemployment rate is 2.5 times the white unemployment rate. Along with a higher vulnerability to energy prices, communities simply do not have a pipeline of steady, good-paying jobs. African American communities need an economic lifeline to escape generational poverty.
Offshore access can be a powerful policy to eliminate enduring energy poverty in our nation. Thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the economy that could be generated by offshore access. These economic outlets that minority communities desperately need. Oil and natural gas jobs are stable, high paying and are accessible with a high school diploma and on the job training.
Offshore oil and natural gas production do more than make sure smartphones are charged and gas tanks are filled (though they do that exceedingly well). Oil and natural gas are literally the building blocks of a high standard of living. Modern medicine, computers and smartphones, fertilizer, eyewear and clothing and all sorts of sports and recreational equipment are manufactured with components derived from oil and natural gas. Eliminating American oil and natural gas production means the things that make modern life, well, modern will become more expensive and out of reach for many Americans.
While Sens. Warren and Sanders and former Vice President Biden may be personally able to afford to say no to oil and natural gas jobs, many American communities do not have that luxury. Just five years ago, oil prices were $106 per barrel. This year, the short-lived oil price high was only $65. We cannot take for granted our nation’s energy or economic snapshot; we all know how it can change almost overnight.
Balancing energy and quality of life is an easy formula. Our elected officials can, and should, pursue as many economic opportunities for its citizens as it can. Fortunately, offshore energy development provides a strong policy that can advance the well-being and security of every American.
Derrick Hollie is a political analyst and president of Reaching America, an organization addressing complex social issues affecting African American communities.