Monday, June 27, 2022
Energy costs for American consumers will decline only when global supplies begin to equal global demand. In dealing with the energy crisis voters should not fault President Biden for the hand that he has been dealt, but they can be critical of how the Administration is playing that hand. As William Galston of the Brookings Institution wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “We need something we haven’t had for a long time: a comprehensive energy strategy built on realistic premises about supply, technology and politics.”
Unfortunately, President Biden’s energy policies have been both incoherent and inconsistent. His administration has failed to articulate an “all the above energy strategy “dealing with fossil fuels, nuclear energy, and renewable green energy. He has declared a “climate emergency” but has not presented the American people with a transition program that is affordable, technologically possible, and consistent with public needs.
Since his first days in office, the President has ignored effectively closing the gap between the demand for and supply of gasoline. While this challenge is exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Team Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, stopped new leases in Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge, and limited new oil and gas leases on federal land and waters, and enhanced regulatory burdens on building energy infrastructure. These initiatives restricted and reduced domestic oil and gas production and contributed to five dollar per gallon gasoline.
The numbers bear this conclusion out. United States’ daily oil production declined from 12.3 million barrels in 2019 to a projected 11.9 million this year as demand was accelerating as the economy awoke from the pandemic-induced shutdown. While the war in Ukraine impacted gas prices, in January 2021 the average price at the pumps was $2.33 per gallon. In May 2022 the average price was $4.44, suggesting that 56% of the price increase predated the Russian aggression.
In response to escalating energy costs the Administration has proposed short-term gimmicks which could spark demand, but not impact gas and oil production. Tipping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve may have heightened global fuel demands. When the strategic reserve was first tapped the price of a gallon of gasoline stood at $3.50 per gallon. More recently, the President has asked Congress to suspend the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gasoline tax for three months. Assuming one consumes two gallons of gasoline a day, the savings would be about thirty three dollars for ninety days. One trade-off for the three-month federal gas tax holiday, as the Wall Street Journal editorialized, would be to “rob” the Highway Trust Fund of about $25 billion earmarked to finance the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.
Recently, Energy Secretary Jennifer Grandholm said that “we need to have increased production, so everyday citizens in America will not be feeling the pain that they are feeling right now.” To his credit President Biden has asked the oil industry to increase production and refinery output. But did the President consider the following obvious question? Why would the petroleum industry be willing to invest millions of dollars in short-term production if the Administration’s aim is to limit their ability to do business? The Biden Administration should be challenging the oil and gas industry not only to address climate change, but to create an Energy Production Operation Warp Speed as was done in facilitating the development of the COVID vaccination.
To unravel our jumbled energy policy the President needs to put ideology aside and work with the gas and oil industry to quickly advance the next generation of an environmentally efficient oil and gas production, affordable energy-efficient products, and geothermal and nuclear technologies. The nation is waiting on President Biden to recommend a realistic and affordable energy plan based on what former Treasury Larry Summers called “an all-in more energy supply approach.”
Gary Sasse is the Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University