Protesters label Redford an enemy of the poor

Oil and gas drilling » Clergymen link famed moviemaker's stance to racism.
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Hollywood's Sundance Kid is hurting poor people.

So say some East Coast ministers and conservative activists, who took to the streets in front of a downtown Salt Lake City theater on the eve of Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival to accuse the actor of holding down low-income Americans with his opposition to oil and gas drilling near national parks in Utah.

The protesters, led by the Congress of Racial Equality's national spokesman Niger Innis, suggested Redford should "relinquish his wealth" and live like a poor person. They complained that the filmmaker's anti-drilling stance could lead to higher energy prices for inner-city residents, forcing them to accept a lower standard of living.

The clergymen prayed for Redford "to see the light" and linked his environmental activism with racism.

"The high energy prices we're going to see this winter are essentially discriminatory," said Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. of the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., chairman of the High-Impact Leadership Coalition, a petroleum industry advocate.

A month ago, Redford, a trustee of the National Resources Defense Council, voiced support for a federal lawsuit aimed at blocking the Bush administration's "morally criminal" attempt to auction 103,000 acres of scenic redrock desert for oil and gas drilling near Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dinosaur National Monument.

On Wednesday, Redford said through a spokeswoman that he stands by his opposition to the leasing. "These contested oil leases in Utah really have nothing to do with the cost of home heating," said Los Angeles-based spokeswoman Joyce Deep. "The fact is, the oil and gas industry already has more leases than it knows what to do with."

Using federal studies and statistics, The Wilderness Society calculated the natural gas recoverable from the 77 contested parcels would be the equivalent of two days of national consumption. The oil recoverable from those parcels would last 1 hour and 40 minutes at today's consumption rate.

Glenn Bailey, executive director of the poverty-advocacy group Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, called CORE's message a "red herring." The root cause of high energy prices, he said, are "big industry and price manipulation, not conservationists."

But Bishop Bobby Allen, of Ogden's Griffin Memorial Church of God in Christ, said even a tiny amount of Utah gas represents a lifeline to poor inner-city residents. "One life worth saving is worth the effort," he said.

On Wednesday, Innis asserted that a billion cubic feet of Utah natural gas flows to the East every day. That's possible, given that Utah, Wyoming and Colorado together daily ship 4.3 billion cubic feet eastward, according to Mark Doelger of the Wyoming Pipeline Authority.

But to put that in perspective, the 1 million people in the greater Chicago region consumes more than 4 billion cubic feet per day.

According to the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, the entire amount of gas drilled in Utah between 1891 and 2000 has been 7.65 trillion cubic feet. Between 2000 and September 2007, drilling in Utah yielded 2.3 trillion cubic feet -- all told, about six month's worth at today's consumption level.

CORE's ties

In July, the Congress of Racial Equality joined with the High-Impact Leadership Coalition to advocate for increased U.S. domestic oil and gas production through the "Stop the War on the Poor" campaign.

Last month, the two groups announced their "don't freeze us out" campaign to support the Bush administration auction in Utah of oil and gas leases, some near national parks.

The Leadership Coalition is affiliated with Americans for American Energy, according to SourceWatch, a nonprofit watchdog supported by the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy.

Americans for American Energy is headed by Coloradan Jim Sims, who also runs the Western Business Roundtable. Former Utah lawmaker Aaron Tilton is an AAE officer. He, Sims and Utah Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, brought Innis to the Utah Legislature last year to argue for more energy development, shortly after AAE circulated an electronic missive linking wilderness supporters with Osama bin Laden, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Western Business Roundtable's board of trustees includes Questar Market Resources Inc., Rio Tinto, Peabody Coal, Shell Oil and Western Fuels Association. The group opposes the recommendations of the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative.

On May 21, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came to Salt Lake City to see Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. sign Utah on to the climate initiative, putting the Beehive State in a partnership with California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gases. Both governors also signed a memorandum between California and Utah to work together to combat global warming.

Patty Henetz