Gas prices force Biden to embrace fossil fuels unlikely

WASHINGTON – President Biden has taken office, promising to tackle the planet’s climate crisis. But soaring gas prices, driven in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have prompted the environmentally friendly president to do something unlikely: accept oil.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden traveled to Iowa, where he announced that the Environmental Protection Agency would temporarily lift regulations banning the use of a mixture of ethanol and gasoline known as E15 in the summer, which contributes to smog during the warmer months. Mr Biden said his government would abandon the regulation to reduce the price of petrol at the pump for many Americans.

“It will help some people and I am committed to everything I can do to help, even if it’s an extra dollar or two in my pockets, when they fill up, it will make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. Mr. Biden after taking a tour of a facility that produces 150 million gallons of bioethanol a year. He later added: “When you have a choice, you have competition. When you have competition, you have better prices. ”

The ethanol announcement is the latest move by Mr. Biden’s White House, which contradicts promises he made as a presidential candidate to divert the United States from fossil fuels. The price of gas seems to have changed his calculations. The average price per gallon of gas in October last year was $ 3.32; in March it was about $ 4.32.

Last month, the president proposed a new policy aimed at pressuring oil companies to drill oil on unused land, saying companies had thousands of “permits to dig oil if they wanted to.” Why aren’t they pumping oil? “Mr Biden also announced the sale of 180 million barrels of oil from the country’s strategic oil reserves over the next six months, the biggest leak in history.

“This will provide a historic supply for a historic period of time,” Mr Biden said at the time.

Mr Biden has been carefully pulling the strings in the weeks since US sanctions against Russian oil and gas have led to rising energy prices. Although he urged oil producers to pump more crude oil, the president sought to reassure his political base that meeting the needs of today’s crisis would not divert attention from the long-term goal of moving away from fossil fuels that cause dangerous climate change. .

The president’s embrace of oil underscores his awkward position between two competing priorities: the imperative to reduce America’s fossil fuel use and the pressure to respond to rising gas prices.

“I don’t think that when his term began, Joe Biden thought he would spend his second year extracting a strategic oil reserve or flying to Des Moines to approve the E15 waivers,” said Barry Reib, a political science professor. and environmental policy at the University of Michigan.

With his broader climate change program and investment in wind, solar and electric vehicles largely halted in Congress, the president’s allies say his short-term actions in favor of oil could further disappoint voters focused on the environment. an environment that Democrats need to come out in Congress. elections this fall.

“Climate voters are likely to be unhappy, except for a major legislative achievement,” Mr Rabe said.

Mr Biden’s recent actions have drawn criticism in many parts of the environmental community. Mitch Jones, managing director of food and water watch lobby group policy, said in a statement that the decision to lift the summer ban on E15 “puts us deeper into the hole of dirty fossil fuel mixtures.”

White House officials have challenged the idea that Mr. Biden has focused on fossil fuels. They note that his environmental policies have always provided for continued dependence on oil and gas as the country makes a long-term transition to cleaner energy sources.

And they said the current energy crisis is a clear example of why they think Congress and Republicans should support the shift to alternative energy and reduce US dependence on oil.

“Families have to take their children to school and go to work, get groceries and go on with their lives – and sometimes that requires petrol today, this month and this year,” said Vedant Patel, a White House spokesman. “But at the same time, we need to speed up, not slow down, our transition to clean energy.

In recent weeks, Biden administration officials have announced funding to make homes energy efficient, launched a new conservation program, and said the president would invoke the Defense Manufacturing Act to promote domestic extraction and processing of minerals needed for production. of batteries for electric vehicles.

Republicans and lobbyists for the oil and gas industry have sought to blame high gas prices on Mr Biden’s climate agenda, arguing that prices would have been lower if the White House had not pursued programs aimed at moving the country to other forms of clean energy.

“Don’t blame Putin for gas prices,” Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, told Fox News earlier this month.

He added: “This is a reaction to the shutdown of the fossil fuel industry. They are persecuting them in every possible way. “

But in reality, Mr. Biden has had limited success in implementing his climate agenda – largely because of resistance from Republicans and the energy industry. So experts say it is difficult to blame higher gas prices for the effect of these proposals, which have yet to be implemented.

For example, Mr Biden has proposed $ 300 billion in tax incentives to boost the wind and solar markets and electric vehicles. If passed, it could reduce the nation’s emissions by approximately 25 percent by 2030. The bill was passed in the House of Representatives but stopped in the Senate amid opposition from Republicans and Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat.

Mr Biden has also sought to halt new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters, a move that the oil industry is maintaining damaged production. However, this policy was stopped by the courts, and Mr. Biden sold more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico at auction last year – the largest lease in history.

Officials estimated that allowing the ethanol mixture to be sold in the summer would shave 10 cents of every gallon of gasoline purchased at the country’s 2,300 stations that offered it, and described the decision as a move towards “energy independence.”

That’s a small percentage of the 150,000 gas stations nationwide, according to NACS, the trade association that represents convenience stores.

Mr Biden is also facing growing pressure to bring down energy prices, which contributed to the fastest inflation rate since 1981. One gallon of gas averaged $ 4.10 on Tuesday, according to the AAA.

Ethanol is produced from corn and other crops and has been blended with some gasoline for years to reduce oil dependence. But the higher volatility of the mixture can contribute to smog in warmer weather. For this reason, environmental groups have traditionally opposed the lifting of the ban in the summer. The same is true for oil companies, which fear that greater use of ethanol will reduce their sales.

The extent to which the presence of ethanol holds back fuel prices is a matter of debate among economists. Some experts said the decision is likely to bring greater political benefits than financial ones.

“This is still very, very little compared to the strategic release of the oil reserve,” said David Victor, a climate policy expert at the University of California, San Diego. “This is a much more transparent political move.”

And the environmental benefits of biofuels are being undermined by the way they are raising the prices of corn and food, some energy experts say.

Legislators and leaders in the corn industry are calling on Mr Biden to fill the gap created by the US ban on Russian oil exports with biofuels. Emily Score, CEO of the Growth Energy Biofuels Trade Association Group, called the decision a “big win” for energy security.

“This is a difficult election and I don’t think it’s something they like,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs at the League of Voters for Nature Conservation, a non-profit group. “I believe they are working to do it in a way that does not hold back more fossil fuel or pollution infrastructure for decades, and I think they remain determined to meet the climate as always.

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