Redford defends gas stance |

Redford defends gas stance

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Advocates for the poor hope to parlay the Sundance Film Festival into a worldwide stage for protesting Robert Redford’s opposition to natural gas drilling, which, they claim, increases heating costs.

The Congress of Racial Equality met Wednesday in Salt Lake City to demonstrate against Redford’s association with radical environmentalists, according to CORE spokesman Niger Innis.

"I’m sure [Redford] feels strongly about these issues. I just think that he is either uninformed or has been misled on the real-world consequences of his environmental activism," Innis said in a prepared statement.

CORE and black clergy criticized Redford for opposing drilling in Utah’s wildest areas, which "hurts a lot of low-income families at the other end of the natural gas pipeline," Innis said.

"Robert Redford can afford to heat his 13,000-square-foot mansion in Utah no matter how high home heating prices get," said Harry R. Jackson Jr., chairman of the High-Impact Leadership Coalition, which also participated in Wednesday’s protest. "But grandmothers on a fixed income and single mothers dependent upon public assistance count on energy production in states like Utah to continue so that their home-heating costs stay as low as possible."

But Joyce Deep, a spokeswoman for Redford, said CORE’s position is influenced by funds the right-wing group receives from the oil industry.

"They’ve gotten about $275,000 from Exxon oil in the last five years," Deep said in a telephone interview Friday. "When anybody takes large sums of money from industry and pushes their agenda, that makes it suspect."

Redford opposes a push by George W. Bush to allow new drilling leases on about 360,000 acres of land including some near national parks in the West, Deep said.

"The Bush administration on Election Day announced that they were going to open up 360,000 acres of land to oil and gas development when they thought nobody was looking," Deep said.

Environmental groups have accused the Bush administration of making a last-minute attempt to auction off the land to oil companies.

"Mr. Redford stands behind his opposition to the Bush administration’s last-minute efforts to take these particular leases on public land in Utah and auction it off to private industry," Deep said.

Drilling still hasn’t begun on thousands of acres of land where drilling permits already have been issued, Deep said.

"[Redford] really does reject the argument that CORE puts forth, that these (new) leases have anything to do with home-heating prices this winter," Deep said. "It’s a fallacy to say there are not enough places to drill in the United States. They’re just not drilling."

But Redford "is looking at the world through the eyes of a rich guy," Jackson said Friday.

"[Redford] is looking at the scenery and other issues, whereas this winter you will have people in urban areas who will have utilities shut off," Jackson said in a telephone interview.

Any opposition to drilling makes energy cost more, he said.

"When Redford speaks out, he carries weight and makes things happen. We’ve got to take this opportunity to speak out against it," Jackson said. "If we don’t look out for the little guy, who is going to?"

Even the poor, however, benefit from more sustainable energy sources, Deep countered.

"Mr. Redford remains firmly committed to sustainable sources of clean energy to replace those which are toxic and polluting which we can’t sustain, which endanger the public health, the environment and economy for all Americans," Deep said.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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