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U.S. energy secretary criticized by advocacy groups for ‘redlining’ comment

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette speaks with journalists during a roundtable in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil February 2, 2020. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Liberal groups criticized U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette on Tuesday for a comment they interpreted as comparing the reluctance of some banks to finance fossil fuels projects with discrimination against minorities.

The environmental advocacy group League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and consumer rights group Public Citizen both called for Brouillette to resign over comments in an interview with Axios on Monday.

Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes labeled those calls “ridiculous” and said Brouillette has “zero tolerance for discrimination of any type, and he was not in any way equating the plight of minority communities to that of energy companies.”

Brouillette, who once worked for the financial services company USAA, was quoted as saying by Axios that the refusal of some banks to finance drilling in the Arctic was a form of “redlining”.

Redlining occurred when banks and insurers historically refused loans and policies in wide swathes of cities with high concentrations of minorities, greatly reducing opportunities for people there to own homes and businesses.

“Redlining is the term used all throughout those debates,” Brouillette told Axios. “We didn’t want banks redlining certain parts of the country. We don’t want that here. I do not think banks should be redlining our oil and gas investment across the country.”

LCV President Gene Karpinski said the comments “completely dismiss the experience black communities had and have with discriminatory lending practices.”

The Trump administration has sought to open more federal lands to drilling, including the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, which environmental groups have called one of the world’s last remaining pristine places.

Brouillette has also said the Trump administration is seeking to help the drilling industry weather the economic fallout of the novel coronavirus in part by barring lenders from discriminating against the industry.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Grant McCool

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