Politics

‘Groundhog Day’: Biden and GOP revive decades-old energy fight

The economy was on the verge of collapse and the price of oil and gasoline was exploding. So House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pointed to the pile of about 10,000 unused permits and told drillers to “use it or lose it.” A bill on the subject was not adopted, but the point was made.

Now, as gasoline rises above $4 again, President Biden and Democrats have dusted off old talking points. They push back on calls to change the administration’s energy strategy by pointing to the “9,000 permits” that oil and gas companies must already drill on federal public lands. Republicans have also pulled out an old playbook – demanding Biden restart the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and suggesting green groups get money from Russia.

“It’s like they’re playing iTunes hits from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s,” said Mark Pfeifle, a public relations consultant who worked in President George W. Bush’s White House, about the arguments of both parties. “They don’t have new ideas.”

There is a “Groundhog Day” feel to the debate, with voters waking up to the same explanations with every crisis as Bill Murray woke up on the same date, February 2, in the 1993 cinematic comedy. Experts say it’s a way for policymakers, politicians and parties to avoid straying from entrenched views in an election year despite massive changes in the world order and world markets caused by Russia’s invasion and bombardment of a sovereign country and the devastating sanctions imposed in response. higher prices at the pump could increase public pressure to the point that both sides see the need for an energy deal, analysts say.

“If gas prices stay high, those talking points become stale,” Pfeifle said. “You need new ammunition.”

Pfeifle recalled helping promote the Bush administration’s position in 2003 that more drilling was needed on public lands to replace “Saddam’s oil,” a reference to Saddam Hussein, the overthrown and captured Iraqi leader. American forces.

Bush wanted to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Environmental groups countered that Americans could save more gas than ANWR would provide simply by properly inflating their tires. In another example, Conservative lightning rod and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) sported a “Drill, Baby, Drill” shawl during this year’s State of the Union address, resurrecting a line of applause invented at the Republican National Convention during the 2008 price crisis.

Some have drawn comparisons to even earlier oil shocks. In an analysis titled “America is back…to the psychology of energy scarcity,” ClearView Energy Partners LLC pointed to the similarities between windfall taxes signed by former President Carter in the 1990s. 1970 and proposed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.) last week. .

“Everything old is new again,” the report says.

Oil shocks and the politics of energy shortages faded when hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” revived the United States oil and gas industry and made the country a leading fuel producer. For years, this has shielded American consumers from energy shocks in times of global instability.

But that hasn’t shielded the engines of rising inflation or holes in the global market created by sanctions on Russia, the world’s third-largest oil producer and one of Europe’s main energy providers. Europe.

Keystone XL, Black Money and Hydraulic Fracturing

A closer look at the talking points also shows that they would do little to lower prices in the near term, if at all.

Today, if oil companies were to focus on drilling permits on federal lands, it would do little to solve the global supply shortage. Oil production from federal public lands accounts for about one-tenth of the country’s production.

With Keystone XL, Republicans linked Biden’s decision to rescind his cross-border permit approval to rising gas prices even before Russian tanks entered Ukraine, triggering sanctions. But if Biden had just left the project alone, it still wouldn’t be built now. It probably wouldn’t be close.

Before Biden scrapped the permit in 2021, Keystone XL developer TC Energy Corp. hoped to begin operations in 2023. And that timeline might have been optimistic. The project, which would have transported crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to U.S. refineries, was also still tied up in lengthy litigation (thread of energyJuly 19, 2021).

The accusations over Russian funding of environmental groups were launched last week by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee with a press release ominously titled “Putin’s Black Money to Shut Down US Energy.” There is no definitive evidence of financial links, as was the case when the allegations were first floated six years ago.

A 2015 report from an organization dedicated to criticizing environmental groups called the Environment Policy Alliance fueled the theory. He revealed that a company financially linked to environmental donors shared a law firm in Bermuda with defendants in a Russian money laundering prosecution.

The report concluded that the connections raised “serious questions about the potential” that Russian money had made its way to US environmental groups. This, however, did not prove that Russian government money had landed in the bank accounts of environmental groups.

When President Trump was in office to answer questions about his relationship with the Kremlin, Republican officials retaliated by sending demands for the Trump administration to investigate the suggestion of Russian ties to environmental groups (green wire, October 26, 2020). But environmental groups dismiss the accusations as a “smear campaign” (Daily O&MMarch 11) .

Jack Heretik, spokesman for the committee’s Republican members, said Tuesday that if environmental groups “have nothing to hide,” they should simply answer questions lawmakers sent in an open letter to the group and provide documents. .

“Classic Moment of Crisis”

Although the talking points do not change gas prices, they do have some connection to reality.

Although there is no definitive evidence that Russia is funding US environmental groups, the Kremlin has borrowed some of their arguments to undermine support for oil and gas production in the US and Eastern Europe. Is. At an economic conference years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that in homes near shale drilling areas “black stuff comes out of the tap” when people turn to their taps. Russian state-funded media RT has often featured stories about environmental problems caused by shale drilling.

Additional oil wouldn’t be flowing any time soon if Biden suddenly reversed his Keystone XL decision. But for Republicans and many in the oil industry, the cancellation is symbolic of a hostility from Biden that they say discourages investment. Over time, they say, this means less oil is produced.

Lauren Fine, spokesperson for House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Said Keystone XL is just one of many decisions by Biden that have “wasted” the country’s energy security and “are responsible” rising prices at the pump. She reported a letter over 75 Republicans to President Biden suggesting, essentially, that he replace his energy policy with that of Trump.

Democrats have defended their record. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told a conference this month that the Biden administration wants to increase oil and gas production in the near term, even as it seeks to shift to alternative sources “ as quickly as possible” (thread of energyMarch 10).

If oil companies reduce their backlog of drilling permits for onshore public lands, it will not lower world oil prices. But widespread increases in output from U.S. drillers could have some effect now that the U.S. is the biggest oil producer.

Many of these companies cut production during the global pandemic and resisted a rapid recovery, despite higher prices, due to pressure from investors to put profits before volume (climate wireMarch 7).

Paul Bledsoe, strategic adviser for the Progressive Policy Institute, calls the Keystone XL talking point a “red herring.” And he says Democrats’ “oil bashing” is “not helpful.”

But the “Groundhog Day” nature of the debate masks a real opportunity to create a sustainable energy policy, said Bledsoe, a former Clinton administration climate official. Democrats, he said, must recognize the importance of increased production in the near term. , and Republicans need to recognize that the country needs to transition to electric vehicles and cleaner energy for the long term.

“It’s the classic crunch moment,” Bledsoe said. “The question is which party will take it.”

Congressional Democrats’ “use it or lose it” push didn’t quash political pressure in 2008. They let expire a long-standing ban on new offshore drilling off the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific, although this did not lead to further development.

Soon after, the election of President Obama supported natural gas production to meet climate goals and promoted clean energy.

And when the economy crashed, prices came back down.

This story was reported and written by E&E News reporter Mike Soraghan.


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William

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