Opinion

Rethinking America’s Energy Policies With Minorities in Mind

Congress returns this week with a full legislative agenda on its plate and a truncated calendar due to the November elections. There is one important piece of legislation that should place high on their list of priorities: energy legislation that will modernize our nation’s energy policies for the first time in more than a decade and in the process, kick start our economy while providing job opportunities for the nation’s minorities.

The reality is the nation’s economy continues to struggle with our economic growth just revised down to 1.1 percent for the second quarter. To get us back on the right track, policymakers must increase efforts around establishing pro-growth policies that promise to mend our post-recession economy. And there is no better example than utilizing the economically rich capabilities engrained in our nation’s energy industry.

The U.S. has taken incredible strides to capitalize off the historic successes produced from our energy industry. With a new law modernizing U.S. energy policy by repealing a 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports, lawmakers these last several months have turned their sights on to the next crucial step on the list: streamlining approvals for exports of liquefied natural gas. Unfortunately many export projects remain in regulatory gridlock.

Earlier this year, both the House and Senate approved comprehensive, bipartisan energy bills that would, in part, create a scheduled federal review process around LNG export projects’ permit applications. This was nothing short of significant because it’s another critical step to improve policy around a burgeoning industry that plays a key role in the U.S. economy.

Our nation’s shale revolution in the last decade has been extraordinary. The U.S. surpassed Russia in 2012 to become the world’s leading supplier of natural gas and oil. And according to reports, the energy sector added $1.2 trillion to U.S. GDP in 2014 and was responsible for the creation of 2.1 million jobs in 2012. By 2025, this number could reach nearly 4 million.

Under an increased LNG exports scenario, the nation would experience substantial economic success. A report conducted by Rice University last year and commissioned by the Department of Energy found that exporting more than 12 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day would generate 35,200 jobs annually and generate as much as $20.5 billion in new revenue annually. Another report from ICF International, a policy consulting firm in Virginia, projects energy producing states could see anywhere from $10 billion to $31 billion in fresh revenue, with non-producing states collecting upward of $5 billion annually by 2035. The same report also predicts an additional 665,000 jobs will be created nationwide.

There are also potential benefits from increased energy production for an African American community that, even in this day and age, still faces economic struggles. In the third quarter of 2015, unemployment among African Americans was almost 10 percent — nearly twice the national average. And a piece in The Atlantic from the end of 2015 found that this gap is larger now than it was 15 years ago due to a variety of factors.

So what steps can we take to reverse this course?

One way is utilizing our domestic abundance of shale gas and demand for U.S. LNG abroad. We can offer more African Americans better paying jobs. Notably, jobs in America’s oil and gas industry pay nearly $50,000 more than the national average according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We can also use the revenue generated from LNG exports operations to rebuild minority communities across the country, applying the increased funding toward modernizing infrastructure, and building better schools and community centers.

Increasing momentum around U.S. LNG exports, of course, does not solve all of our nation’s economic problems. But it does move the needle closer. Hopefully, policymakers on Capitol Hill recognize these incredible economic benefits for consumers and especially African Americans, and quit stalling on sending the Energy Policy Modernization Act to President Obama’s desk for signature.

 

Harry C. Alford is the president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.

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