Energy Costs Pose Grave Risk To Vulnerable Americans

By Rep. Kevin Hern and Derrick Hollie

As we head toward Labor Day, there is encouraging news for most Americans: unemployment numbers fell to 5.4% as the economy added 943,000 jobs in July.

Unfortunately, these economic downturns are not felt equally by all. Black and Hispanic unemployment dropped to 8.2% and 6.6% respectively, but the figures remain high compared to the jobless rate for their White and Asian counterparts.

We must address the clear divide in America between communities who are coming back from the pandemic, and those becoming more financially vulnerable.

A recent TIPP Poll asked Americans about energy independence, the role of energy producers in crafting legislation, and the need for impact assessment when passing new policy.

At 71%, the vast majority of Americans support an assessment to determine the economic impact of energy policy on America's low-income communities. The support is consistent across the board, regardless of party affiliation or political ideology. The American public agrees that the Biden administration cannot wantonly make decisions that isolate and disadvantage at-risk Americans.

Energy Poverty exists when low-income families or individuals spend up to 30% of their total income on their household electric bills. Although increased oil and gas prices affect every American, higher energy prices hit Black Americans at a disproportionate rate. Median incomes for Black Americans are 33% lower than the national average, making high energy prices even more destructive for these communities.

Minorities are not the only Americans at risk for energy poverty. While rising inflation and higher energy prices hurt all of us, low-income, rural, and senior citizens suffer the most from a lack of access to reliable energy sources – and spend proportionately much more of their income on electricity and related costs.

Today’s inflation is comparable to 2008, and Americans’ pocketbooks are hurting after a summer of spending. June data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 24.5 percent increase in the energy index over the past 12 months. Gasoline specifically rose 45.1%. Access to energy should not come with a prohibitive or exclusive price tag.

In June 2021, the Energy Poverty Prevention and Accountability Act (H.R. 4266) was introduced in the U.S House of Representatives. This bill addresses exactly what the Biden Administration’s policy does not: the welfare of those people hit the hardest by high energy costs. H.R. 4266 would mitigate the disparate impact of increases in the cost of energy on vulnerable communities. Additionally, it would employ U.S agencies such as the Department of the Interior to identify barriers to energy access for those who live on Federal or tribal land. This bill has 11 co-sponsors and cross-country support with representatives ranging from Georgia to Minnesota.

Ensuring that energy remains accessible and affordable for all Americans is an issue on which we remain unified.

Congressional Democrats and the Biden Administration have proven that we can no longer rely on them to advocate for vulnerable communities. Americans continue to struggle economically due to COVID -- and proposing bans on the domestic energy industry simply does not make sense, as this will only drive prices higher by outsourcing our energy needs.

It is never prudent to ban safe, reliable sources like oil and natural gas for unproven and unreliable renewable sources, and with the uncertainty that comes with this virus, it is even more untimely to penalize domestic mining. We can not pursue climate action at the expense of leaving at-risk Americans behind in the process.

In order to protect our most vulnerable citizens, we need to continue to explore and develop America's vast natural energy resources that provide jobs for millions of low-income and union workers, and clean, reliable, and affordable energy for all.

We believe enacting legislation such as H.R. 4266 -- which mitigates the impact of the cost of energy on vulnerable communities -- is a positive step forward and should be enacted immediately. Fortunately, most Americans agree.

Kevin Hern represents Oklahoma's first district in the US House of Representatives. Representative Hern spent 35 years as a small business owner before running for Congress in 2018. Now, he serves on the Ways & Means Committee, the House Energy Action Team, and leads the Budget & Spending Task Force for the Republican Study Committee.

Derrick Hollie is the founder of Reaching America, a 501(C)(4) organization that uses grassroots efforts, social media, traditional media, and PR to advocate for reduced regulation on the fossil fuel industry as well as other issues affecting African Americans and other vulnerable communities in our country today.