- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation plans to focus a good portion of its agenda on energy costs and increased fuel production in America at its annual legislative conference.

The legislative conference begins today at the Washington Convention Center with a national town-hall meeting on the nation’s energy policy.

A key aspect of the town-hall meeting and a brainstorming session tomorrow will be expanding fuel production subsidies and technology funding to include sugar-based ethanol products in line with current government support for corn-based ethanol and soy-based diesel fuels.

“In less than 10 years, if we adopt our energy agenda, this nation could become energy independent as Brazil has done using sugar cane,” said Rep. James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “Potatoes and sweet potatoes are both better than corn, studies have shown, and we think Southern soil that grows them so well will produce the kind of … plants that will get it where we want to be.”

Mr. Clyburn said sugar-based ethanol could be a boon for farmers in North and South Carolina seeking to transition from tobacco as their cash crop, but also for black farmers who have grown sweet potatoes for decades.

There will be more than 70 symposiums on issues of health care, education, justice, economic empowerment, Social Security and retirement income focused on closing disparities between blacks and other Americans.

Several caucus members who announced the agenda at a preliminary session yesterday said there will be several symposiums on immigration and homeland security, designed to generate a new debate on the issue on the fairness of the current policy. The black caucus has approved an agenda calling for increased border security, earned citizenship and fair wages for legal aliens and holding employers accountable for hiring illegal aliens, said Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat and Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) chairman.

“But we also want to look at and start a debate on the fairness of who we let in, because for a long time there has been a pattern of discrimination against those coming from countries in the Caribbean like Haiti and [from] Africa,” Mr. Watt said.

There will also be a lengthy discussion in at least five sessions dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and others on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting Democrat representative, said she intends to ramp up the discussion on turning out the black vote during the midterm elections, saying that her party cannot afford to leave votes home.

“We have to be honest about the fact that while black voters are energized this year, this is not a presidential election year, and from past lessons, we know that we leave voters home in huge numbers, so a lot of work has to be done,” she said.

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