When it comes to Earth Day, environmentally friendly efforts such as recycling may come to mind.

But for Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, there's another angle to what he calls environmentalism — economics.

"The civil rights challenge of our time is to stop extreme environmental policies that drive up the cost of energy and disproportionately hurt low-income Americans and the working poor," said Innis, speaking Tuesday at the conservative issues group Sutherland Institute.

Gas prices are already at $3.38 a gallon in Utah, roughly 50 cents more than a year ago, according to AAA. And Innis says environmental legislation pending in Congress could make things worse — by raising energy costs, and causing Utahns job losses and a drop in their disposable incomes.

That bill, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, is designed to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

An Environmental Protection Agency analysis suggests energy prices could rise by as much as 44 percent in 2030 and 26 percent in 2050. However, the bill includes assistance for low- and middle-income households, according to Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and the increased costs would be offset by new technology leading to less energy use.

However, Innis told the Deseret News that minority groups and the working poor bear the brunt of policies that lead to rising energy costs.

He says unless the nation starts developing more of its traditional sources, the current energy crunch could be just the beginning. Innis suggests jobs could be created and prices lowered by opening up new areas for oil extraction, for example.

"The economic downturn we have been suffering just this year alone can be traced to an increase in the price today of oil," he said. "We see the havoc it is causing in the economy."

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However, Michael Styles, director of the Utah Office of Black Affairs, says he's cautiously optimistic about the trend toward going green. He says the focus should be on training in emerging technologies so that Utah's low-income ethnic minorities won't be left behind.

"We're talking about something very new," Styles said. "This is a great opportunity for people to again find a pathway out of poverty."

Styles suggests that the answer to future employment is getting people trained in areas such as developing and installing renewable energy technologies to ensure stable employment in the future.

"After you have a sustainable income, then you can start talking about an energy-efficient light bulb," Styles says. "The awareness of the environment works hand-in-hand with these green-collar jobs."

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com