Amid war, Biden reluctant to unleash clean energy rhetoric

Republicans are calling for more oil drilling. Europe says it is stepping up its efforts on clean energy. But as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues into its second week, President Biden has remained silent on how tectonic shifts in global markets are expected to affect the future of American energy.

Gasoline prices have remained Biden’s constant focus. He expressed concern about rising costs for motorists last month when opening the invasion, and again during his State of the Union address last week. The president’s most publicized response was to release millions of barrels from the strategic oil reserve to help mitigate price hikes at the pump.

But Biden has avoided tying the diplomatic and economic isolation of Russia — one of the world’s top three oil producers — to his goal of decarbonizing the economy, as international allies and some other Democrats have done. Biden also ignored calls from industry, Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) to revive domestic drilling to replace Russian oil.

These responses would not quell the current spike in energy prices, experts say, because more drilling or more renewable energy would take months or years to come online.

But some Democrats are starting to worry about losing control of an important narrative — which encompasses inflation, jobs, national security and other important issues — as a midterm election approaches already. difficult.

“We cannot let the fossil fuel industry scare us into a free-for-all national drilling that is neither economically justified nor environmentally friendly,” the president of the Chamber of Natural Resources, Raúl Grijalva, wrote on Friday. (D-Arizona). Guardian editorial.

“The United States is the world’s largest producer of oil and gas. Doubling the share of fossil fuels is a false solution that only perpetuates the problems that brought us here in the first place,” he wrote, calling for more investment in renewable energy as a way to “cut the lifeline of fossil fuel despots like Putin. ”

Biden has been reluctant to emphasize this argument. He continued to speak about clean energy in the same terms as last year – praising the bipartisan infrastructure investments that have already been passed and urging the approval of more clean energy tax credits.

Instead, Biden argued that electric vehicles and renewable energy are the key to American power — against China. On the other hand, he did not argue that the United States should decarbonize to marginalize Russia.

Democrats risk missing an opportunity to reframe clean energy as a security issue, some observers say.

“The crisis has revealed new economic and geopolitical opportunities that Democrats, in particular, have yet to exploit,” said Paul Bledsoe, former climate chief in the Clinton White House. “But I think they will.”

European leaders have been more direct. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on the eve of the Russian invasion: “We are doubling down on renewable energy. This will increase Europe’s strategic energy independence.

The British Conservative government echoed this position. Kwasi Kwarteng, Britain’s business secretary, said the government would boost renewable and nuclear energy as a defense against countries like Russia militarizing supplies of fossil fuels like natural gas.

“The long-term solution is obvious: gas is more expensive than renewables, so we need to move away from gas,” Kwarteng wrote on Twitter. “The more clean and cheap electricity we produce at home, the less exposure we will have to global gas markets.”

The Biden administration basically agrees with this position. In January, Biden issued a joint statement with the president of the European Commission pledging close cooperation on clean energy as a long-term security strategy.

“Current European security challenges underscore our commitment to accelerate and carefully manage the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy,” Biden and von der Leyen said in a Jan. 28 statement.

But since Russia invaded Ukraine, the Biden administration has reduced that position in favor of market stability. That’s not a bad thing for some Democrats.

“Bank Coup”

Biden has rallied international allies against Russian gas — particularly Germany — while continuing to pursue his longstanding domestic climate policies, said Josh Freed, senior vice president for climate and energy at Third Way.

But turning a conversation about Ukrainian sovereignty into a conversation about clean energy, Freed said, could hit people like a “bank stunt.”

It’s “not the kind of dinner conversation most Americans have,” he said.

Into this policy vacuum have entered those who say the best way to ensure energy price stability is to step up drilling in the United States, which still remains below pre-pandemic production levels.

“We need to have a comprehensive energy policy,” Manchin said Thursday, adding that he had lobbied the administration to increase oil and gas drilling. The United States can increase oil production “overnight,” he added, “if they let us.”

More clean energy is good too, added Manchin, but “the main thing is fossil fuel production right now. I mean wind and solar ain’t gonna put natural gas there [in Europe]. We have to be realistic with what we’re trying to do here.”

Other countries “look at us and say, ‘What is this? What, are you sitting on your hands and asking us to keep taking [oil] from Russia?’ Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Thursday. “They turn to us and say, ‘You have the capacity to do more to help us, so do it. “”

The Biden administration might say it’s doing everything it can to drive down gas prices, but Democrats’ policies clearly discourage oil and gas investment, said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute.

“They are sending a signal to the market now that the policy of the United States is to close business… for oil and gas. This is unacceptable,” he said. “This is not what the American people want. This is not what the bipartisan policymakers on Capitol Hill want.

To fend off such criticism, the Biden administration pointed to the industry’s stockpile of oil leases on public lands and pointed to short-term efforts like releasing oil reserves.

The long-term answer has been where the White House has been more comfortable discussing clean energy.

“What we need to do overall here is reduce our dependence on oil,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. “Europeans do that; we are doing it. And I think what we’re all going through now in this discussion about the oil import ban and the volatility in the world markets – the oil markets – reminds us of that.

On Friday, Biden spoke privately with the president of Finland, another country threatened by Russia, about “energy security and efforts to address climate change,” according to a White House statement.

A senior Energy Department official said the administration is following the same two-pronged strategy it has always had: accelerate the transition to clean energy, while maintaining an affordable and reliable energy supply.

“Having had conversations with our European colleagues in particular, I think there’s an incredible moment here to really accelerate the clean energy transition,” the official said on a background call with reporters. “It has a climate advantage, it has an affordability advantage and it also has a security advantage.”

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential information for energy and environmental professionals.

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