War in Ukraine upends Biden’s agenda on energy and climate change

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WASHINGTON (AP) — As Russian troops push deeper into UkrainePresident Joe Biden takes steps to curb rising energy costs even if these measures run counter to its climate change agenda.

Biden announced on Tuesday that he was releasing 30 million barrels of oil from US Strategic Reserves part of a 31-nation effort to help ensure supplies won’t run out after Russia invades its European neighbor. The release follows those ordered in November which were also coordinated with US allies.

“These measures will help bring down gas prices here at home,” Biden said in his State of the Union address. The United States stands ready to do more if needed to protect American businesses and consumers, he said.

The focus on high gas prices and increased oil flow falls far short of Biden’s pledge to wean Americans off oil and other fossil fuels and cut global warming emissions in half. 2030.

Yet it reflects political realities.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken markets around the world. Oil prices soared, with US benchmark crude above $106 a barrel – the highest price since 2014.

Biden’s $2 trillion social and environmental policy bill, which includes about $550 billion for climate change efforts, has stalled for months in the equally divided Senate. It remains unclear when or if the bill will come to a vote or what would be included in it.

Biden’s hour-long speech on Tuesday night touched only lightly on climate, and he offered no new policy initiatives to address global warming.

The omission was particularly notable days after a new UN report warned that climate change is set to get significantly worse and will likely make the world sicker, hungrier, poorer, darker. and much more dangerous.

White House says all tools remain on the table, but tough US sanctions on Russia do not target its energy sector, despite bipartisan calls to ban Russian oil importsat least temporarily.

“If there was ever a time to be energy independent, it’s now,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and eminent supporter of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. which are crucial for its state of energy production.

In 2021, the United States imported about 245 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products from Russia – a 24% year-on-year increase, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

“It makes no sense for us to rely on the energy of a country that is actively engaging in acts of war against a freedom-seeking democracy – Ukraine – when we are blessed with ‘abundant energy resources here in America,’ Manchin said Tuesday. in comments that resonated across the political spectrum.

Liberal Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a longtime climate hawk, introduced legislation banning imports of Russian oil and petroleum products. “We cannot criticize Europe for its dependence on Russian energy while we are pouring dirty oil money into Russia,” Markey said.

Republicans, seizing the political advantage, demanded that Biden immediately roll back policies they say have slowed US energy production – including the cancellation of Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline and a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on public lands and waters.

“Biden must end his war on American energy production so that the United States and our allies can have access to affordable and secure energy,” said Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise, the second Republican in the Bedroom. He and other Republicans have called for tough sanctions on Russian energy production to remove the leverage and funding that Russian President Vladimir Putin has used to attack Ukraine.

“America’s energy dominance is our most potent weapon against Putin,” said Republican Representatives Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state.

The couple introduced a bill on Tuesday that would require Biden to develop an “energy security plan” within 30 days and require him to “release U.S. oil and natural gas production to offset Russian imports” that would be banned. under the law. Westerman is the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, while McMorris Rodgers is the senior GOP member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Some Democrats, seeking ways to ease the pain at the pumps and worried about a possible voter backlash in the November election, are pushing Biden to temporarily suspend the federal gas tax. A bill doing this is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Arizona’s Mark Kelly and New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan, both in tight races for re-election.

The White House has yet to take a position on the gas tax exemption, but a spokesperson said officials are “actively coordinating with major energy consumers and producers,” with the goal of to provide “relief at the gas pump for American households and businesses”. ′ Gasoline prices averaged nearly $3.62 a gallon on Tuesday, up 24 cents from a month ago and 90 cents from a year ago, according to the AAA automobile club.

It was only last fall that Biden boasted of historic progress in the fight against global warming at a UN climate conference in Scotland.

Now, the war in Ukraine “appears likely to consume bandwidth that administration officials might otherwise devote to the energy transition,” said Kevin Book, energy analyst and managing director of ClearView Energy Partners.

“Regime change seems to be crowding out climate change, and for good reason,” Book said in an email. “The world is slowly warming up, but (Ukraine) is boiling.”

Jonathan Elkind, who served as assistant energy secretary for international affairs under President Barack Obama, said while war “will inevitably dominate everything” in the short term, the climate crisis will remain a key focus for Biden and his administration. .

“We have no choice between one or the other. We have to do both. The climate isn’t fixing itself in the meantime,” said Elkind, now a senior fellow at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska made no mention of the climate when he called on Biden to end “a holy war on American energy.” Biden’s policies are “raising energy prices for working families, laying off workers in my state … and empowering dictators like Putin,” Sullivan told Fox News.

“It kills us in three different areas. It makes no sense,” he said.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ridiculed Biden’s climate envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, who said before the invasion that a war in Ukraine could “distract” global attention from the climate change.

“You’re going to lose people’s attention, you’re going to lose big countries’ attention because they’re going to be hijacked, and I think that could have a detrimental impact,” Kerry told the BBC last week.

Pompeo, who served under President Donald Trump, called Kerry’s comment “music to Vladimir Putin’s ears to think America is focusing on climate change while the Ukrainian people are dying in Europe.”

Environmental groups said Kerry’s comments were misrepresented. Even as the world’s attention remains focused on Ukraine, the climate crisis continues, they said. Concern over Russian oil and gas shows the importance of boosting renewable energy such as solar and wind power, said Tiernan Sittenfeld of the League of Conservation Voters.

The conflict in Ukraine “underlines the need to get rid of fossil fuels once and for all. We need to do all of these things at once.″ she said.

The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s leading lobby group, said American companies play a crucial role in supporting European allies with American exports. Nearly 70% of U.S. liquefied natural gas exports went to Europe in January, a trend industry officials expect to continue.

“US energy leadership can serve as a stabilizing force while enhancing global energy security,” said Mike Sommers, Group President and CEO.

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