U.S. Oil Lobby Uses Ukraine Invasion to Argue Against Biden’s Climate Plans

Oil drilling off the coast of California.
Oil drilling off the coast of California. Diana Haronis / Moment / Getty Images

U.S. oil and gas companies are using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to push back against the Biden administration’s climate agenda. 

The American Petroleum Institute (API), a lobby group which represents ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell, tweeted out a series of policy suggestions hours before the invasion began Wednesday, The Guardian reported.  

“As crisis looms in Ukraine, U.S. energy leadership is more important than ever,” API tweeted.

The oil-industry group called for:

  1. Permits for fossil-fuel extraction on public lands.
  2. A five-year offshore leasing plan.
  3. Speeding up the permitting process for fossil-fuel infrastructure.
  4. Reducing legal and regulatory uncertainty. 

The fossil-fuel industry argument is that more U.S. oil and gas production will help reduce costs at home and support countries in Europe, which gets around a third of its gas from Russia, The Guardian explained. However, environmental groups take a different message away from the Ukraine crisis and the resulting shocks to the global energy market. (The global price for a crude oil barrel topped $100 for the first time since 2014 on Thursday). They argue that fossil fuels contribute to both an unstable climate and an unstable energy landscape. 

“It’s pretty rich for the oil and gas industry to talk about how reliable fossil fuels are when any big storm that happens, any time a war pops up, their reliability is thrown into question,” Environmental Voter Project founder and executive director Nathaniel Stinnett told The New York Times. “Wars aren’t fought over solar energy. You don’t see these huge price spikes in clean energy.” 

Republican lawmakers have repeated the industry calls for more U.S. oil and gas production, while 10 Democrats wrote a letter to President Joe Biden Thursday asking him to release oil from the country’s strategic petroleum reserve to lower costs in the short term, The Guardian reported. Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Dan Sullivan of Alaska went so far as to argue that the Keystone XL pipeline should be reopened, according to The Hill and The New York Times.  

However, the administration so far is rejecting the call to drill, baby, drill. 

“The Keystone Pipeline was not processing oil through the system. That does not solve any problems. That’s a misdiagnosis or maybe a misdiagnosis of what needs to happen,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, as The Hill reported. “I would also note that on oil leases, what this actually justifies in President Biden’s view is the fact that we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, on oil in general… and we need to look at other ways of having energy in our country and others.”

European leaders have also emphasized clean energy as a solution to the EU’s reliance on Russian gas. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc was “doubling down on renewables,” The Guardian reported. 

Still, some experts warned that Russia’s aggression combined with other factors raising gas prices could make climate action more politically difficult. 

“Everybody is talking Ukraine, everybody’s talking NATO,” Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington founding director Aseem Prakash told The New York Times, adding that, in the furor, climate “could also get completely shoved off the agenda.”

However, International Energy Agency director Fatih Birol thought the crisis could be a more positive “turning point” for global energy, as The Guardian reported.

“There will be a transition to clean energy… it will be a difficult one, but I believe the governments will have to manage a transition if we want a planet that is safe and clean in the future,” Birol said.

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