Biden’s Energy Allergy

The Biden administration is in thrall to the climate change fantasies of progressives, a fact that is now directly harming Americans at home and our interests abroad.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine has continued apace, Western governments have worked to support the brave resistance of the Ukrainian people and punish the naked aggression of the Russian government. Several major steps have been taken – some of which dovetail with the recommendations I laid out when this war started – but there are still a number of significant actions which have either not been adopted in full or have been left entirely on the cutting-room floor. The most impactful of these actions is focused on Russia’s biggest cash cow: the energy industry. Unsurprisingly, many European governments – notably Germany’s – have vetoed these sanctions given their long-term, planned reliance on Russian energy supplies and lack of workable alternatives. What is more surprising, however, is how long the United States took to adopt harsh sanctions on Russian energy, especially in light of the rush to cut Russia off from the SWIFT banking system – a far more serious action. The Biden administration just came out on March 8 with an executive order banning the import of Russian fossil fuels, an action which only took place once Congress was poised to force the administration’s hand by passing a bipartisan bill on the subject.

Although passing a law would be immensely preferable to and more durable than using executive power, and despite the fact that these sanctions should have been applied weeks ago, it is good that the United States has finally decided to take this eminently reasonable step. But as with any action like this, there will be – and already is – an impact here at home. This is where the Biden administration and its progressive allies are falling flat on their faces; their farcical response is incredibly revealing of the deep issues for the political left on energy policy, foreign affairs, and their bête noire of climate change.

Americans broadly are very much united on the issue of Ukraine, with large majorities supporting arming Ukrainians and imposing strong sanctions on Russia, including on the crucial energy sector. Although Russian fossil fuels make up a small percentage of American imports, sanctioning such a major producer will – especially when combined with disruptions due to the war – cause oil prices to rise across the globe. Surveys have shown that many Americans are willing to endure temporarily higher gas prices in order to punish Russia for its misdeeds, but two factors in that attitude are particularly important to understand: the perception of this as being temporary, and the idea that it is being done to harm an authoritarian aggressor. The actions of the Biden administration undermine both of these tenets.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, issue with the Biden administration’s response is the blatant gaslighting of the public with respect to the root causes and duration of inflation. Gas prices did not spike all of a sudden after these sanctions were applied; they’ve been steadily rising for over a year now due to a combination of factors that have also led to inflation in other areas. General price inflation is described most simply as the phenomenon of too much money chasing too few goods. This means that there are demand (too much money) and supply (too few goods) components to inflation, both of which are involved in making our current inflationary period the worst we’ve seen in 40 years. We have enormous demand-side issues due to our overly aggressive coronavirus relief spending, which has seen the US add trillions of dollars to the national debt in less than two years, far more than was needed to close the output gap caused by the pandemic. Supply-side issues are also serious, as global supply chains and international trade have been short-circuited by 24 months of chaos and instability, making producing and delivering goods far more challenging. These are long-term structural issues that have been exacerbated by government policy (under Biden and Trump) and cannot be attributed to Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Lying about that, when the evidence has been visible in our wallets and receipts for over a year, is unacceptable and unbelievable.

But the administration and its progressive allies in Congress and the media aren’t only trying to shift blame for gas price hikes to Vladimir Putin (who does, in part, deserve it), they’re also blaming American producers and refusing to acknowledge any government role in creating or perpetuating this problem. President Biden has directly implied that oil companies are engaging in “profiteering or price gouging” and stated that his policies are not “holding back domestic energy production.” Media commentators have echoed these claims, saying that corporate greed is driving these increases and that Republicans are blaming Biden for something he has no impact on. The White House Press Secretary has also misled the public on this issue, claiming dismissively that domestic oil production has not been hampered whatsoever by the administration’s policies. None of this is true. Global oil price increases have nothing at all to do with corporate greed; in fact, that greed would lead to increased, not decreased, supply of oil, as producers would want to take advantage of high prices by selling more. This facile view comes from a place of antagonism to and misunderstanding of capitalism, as these folks generally believe that “corporations” are a monolith and do not actually compete in the market. And not only do companies compete, so do countries; OPEC is not the total monopoly it once was, and new deposits of fossil fuels are found all the time. What is needed for a country to compete, however, are policies encouraging exploration and extraction – policies the Biden administration campaigned against. And since being elected and inaugurated, Joe Biden has lived up to those campaign promises; the Keystone XL pipeline was cancelled, oil exploration was prohibited on federal lands, and subsidies have been removed from oil producers and redirected into so-called ‘green energy’ projects. Despite this clear evidence, the administration has pushed back on these facts, saying that there are thousands of approved leases that are sitting unused as we speak. This is facially true, but incredibly misleading; securing a lease is merely the first step in the exploration process, as a vast array of permits are required by various federal bureaucracies before drilling commences.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is a key figure in the Biden administration’s push for progressive energy and climate policies.

Supporters of the administration additionally claim that removing these reams of red tape to allow for greater investment in fossil fuel infrastructure would not impact prices for years, if at all. They say that, as it takes time for drilling to restart and some of the oil infrastructure is only meant for export, changing these policies would be meaningless. This is a misconception of how energy markets and prices work. Energy is an integrated global market, where prices in one country can fluctuate based on events in an entirely different country, making it possible for American policies to impact global prices. For example, the Keystone XL pipeline was meant to transport Canadian oil to American ports for shipment abroad; although this oil would not be used in the American market, its availability would decrease prices globally, thus impacting the price in the US. Energy prices are also heavily influenced by futures markets, which allow companies to contract for purchase or sale of oil at a specified future time and price; these prospective prices are based on what investors think about the future availability of and demand for oil. Investing in productive capacity now, even if that is for oil meant entirely for export, reduces future prices and thus stabilizes present prices. These policies to incentivize and remove barriers to domestic fossil fuel production would reduce the burden of high prices on the American consumer and satisfy the ‘temporary’ criterion described above. Regrettably, the Biden administration is taking another – far worse – approach.

Instead of taking commonsense decisions to boost domestic energy production and help regular Americans, Biden and his team are kowtowing to progressives and their climate change obsession, hurting American power at home and abroad. As discussed earlier, the Biden administration is practically allergic to the idea of new fossil fuel exploration and extraction in the United States, regardless of the fact that such energy production would reduce prices for American consumers and hurt the dictatorships – like Putin’s – which survive on oil revenues. Instead of following this rational course of action, the Biden administration is making symbolic gestures that are either ultimately meaningless or actively harm American interests. On the meaningless front, the administration made a big deal out of releasing 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and convincing other countries to match that amount. Sounds impressive … until you realize that the US consumes about 20 million barrels of oil daily. Such a drop in the bucket would barely register on the price of gas, and hurts America’s military readiness, which is the whole purpose of having a strategic reserve in the first place. On the actively harmful side of the ledger are the feelers the administration has put out to Iran and Venezuela – two of our authoritarian enemies – to get them to sell us oil, reducing prices. This is an egregiously bad idea that will only enrich brutal dictators who will use the money to oppress their people or, in the case of Iran, sponsor terrorist activity across the Middle East and the world. We should be pressuring these evil regimes just as we are pressuring the Putin regime; appeasing one dictatorship will not hurt the other, especially when both Iran and Venezuela are closely aligned with Moscow. All of this signaling is meant to do one thing: placate the progressive climate change activists in the Democratic base.

The aggressive climate agenda of the Biden base has found its way into several major aspects of the administration, from the stimulus and infrastructure bills to major foreign policy decisions. In none of these events was that a positive development. Just when you might think that the government would see reason and re-open domestic energy production – if only to hurt Russia – they are instead doubling down on the climate alarmism and utopian fantasies of the progressive left. This agenda hurts Americans by raising prices and reducing choice, while also benefiting our foreign foes through the deliberate weakening of a critical strategic industry. This has been front and center in the administration’s public messaging over the past week. In a move that can only be described as incredibly tone-deaf, the main rhetorical response to rising gas prices seems to be “just buy an electric car, or ride a bike or something!” We’ve seen this absurd focus on electric cars and renewable energy – neither of which is a sustainable or effective solution to our current problem – from academics, the director of the National Economic Council, the Secretary of Transportation, and the President himself. The EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, went even farther, saying that “We’re pressing the accelerator to reach a zero-emissions future sooner than most people thought.” The problem here is that electric cars, even with hefty government subsidies, are very expensive, wildly impractical for most Americans, and still run on the ‘dirty’ fuel we largely burn for electricity. And unless we invest heavily in nuclear power – something the climate activists always seem to conveniently avoid – we are not going to be able to maintain a modern standard of living entirely on ‘green’ energy sources. Americans aren’t going to stand for a less prosperous society or one which has purposely made itself weaker on the world stage, especially given the return of Great Power rivalries that are now unfolding on our TV screens every night.

The Biden administration was gifted by Vladimir Putin with a golden opportunity to reconsider its obsessive pursuit of a progressive climate agenda and simultaneously reduce burdens on Americans and counter foreign dictatorial aggression. The invasion of Ukraine was a prime chance to unite the American public behind a temporary price hike in order to punish the naked aggression of Russia. The Biden administration’s actions – from gaslighting the public on inflation and cynically shifting blame to conciliating unfriendly dictators and pushing electric cars – put the lie to both of those criteria. This is not a temporary sacrifice and it is being done for reasons other than to punish Russia: namely, to push climate progressivism and appease the left-wing base. Unfortunately, tilting at windmills (and solar panels) in a quixotic quest for “net zero” only hurts America at home and abroad. Enough is enough.

8 thoughts on “Biden’s Energy Allergy

  1. Fossil fuels to run out in a few decades. Time for us to focus on reducing consumption now. Green energy is never going to be able to replace fossil fuels in amount of energy produced. Neither will nuclear, hydrogen or other technology we know about now.

    • Going backward in terms of standard of living, which is what would happen if we reduced energy consumption, isn’t going to fly. Not only would it hurt the relatively wealthy in the developed world, it would inflict immense pain on the developing world. We are discovering new fossil fuel deposits & inventing new ways to access them all the time; same with nuclear power. I have immense faith in the ability of humans to adapt our way out of these problems.

      • I said at the end “no technology we know about now” leaving open the possibility of as you say adapt our way out, which may happen. I consider all possible outcomes and possibilities, including worst case, and plans for all the possibilities.

  2. “Climate change: IPCC report warns of ‘irreversible’ impacts of global warming”

    Honest question: What is the “rational policy” response to that problem though? Because while Biden administration’s energy policy may be baffling in light contemporary geopolitics, surely it is not irrational to start taking all these reports seriously.

    • The response should be to swap the dirtiest fuels with cleaner ones – to get rid of coal & replace it with natural gas, for instance – invest heavily into nuclear power, and work on adapting to a changing climate. This isn’t a a problem we can solve ourselves, and the rest of the world – despite the “promises” of the Paris Agreement – isn’t going to stop growth to protect the climate. I’m also open to the idea of a carbon tax, but that would have to replace other taxes.

      Altogether though, I’m skeptical of the doomsaying scenarios & have a lot of faith in humanity to innovate & adapt our way through this as we have with everything else. But that doesn’t mean just use wind & solar, as those are not realistic solutions for an energy-hungry civilization & also have environmental downsides.

  3. As a scientist, my education began with the Global cooling crowd in the 70’s, and I swallowed it (“no return in 10 years!”). Suddenly, it was Global warning (end of world movies from the Hollywood crowd). But by now, I was a bit wiser.

    Then, the magic ticket…. “Climate Change (as if both weather and climate aren’t always changing) – and Al Gore with his famous (and continual) predictions of the world ending in X years.

    Now – whether COVID or the environment, every crisis becomes a world-ending one, and demands for a No-Risk, No-Cost response (who cares about the farther reaching consequences).

    Another good read – thanks for the essay.

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