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Environmentalists and oil-and-gas companies push favored policies in response to Ukraine

  • “Among those released on Tuesday was Gustavo Cárdenas, one of the six executives of Citgo Petroleum Corp. who were arrested during a business trip to Caracas in November 2017 and later charged with corruption. The other was Jorge Alberto Fernández, a tourist who was detained and accused of terrorism for flying a drone early last year, according to a human rights defender in Venezuela with knowledge of the case who asked for anonymity to discuss the ongoing developments.”

Environmentalists and oil and gas companies push favored policies in response to Ukraine war

Never waste a crisis: Environmentalists and the oil and gas industry both see a singular opportunity in the skyrocketing oil prices driven by the conflict in Ukraine.

Both sides believe the crisis helps make the case for pursuing policies they’ve long favored — even though they acknowledge such measures wouldn’t do much to bring down prices in the short term. While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) each supported the U.S. banning the importation of Russian oil — which President Biden did on Tuesday — they now find themselves on opposite sides of a lobbying battle over what happens next.

LCV and other environmental groups argue that the vagaries of relying on foreign oil make passing the climate provisions included in Democrats’ long-stalled Build Back Better Act even more urgent. The Chamber and the American Petroleum Institute, meanwhile, view the crisis as a reason to make it easier to increase its domestic energy production.

Biden took the environmentalists’ side on Tuesday when he announced the ban on Russian oil imports. The war in Ukraine “should motivate us to accelerate the transition to clean energy,” he said.

Easing environmental regulations “will not lower energy prices for families,” Biden said. “But transforming our economy to run on electric vehicles powered by clean energy with tax credits to help American families winterize their homes and use less energy — that will help.”

The president also tried to rebut Republican attacks that say he’s failed “to unleash American energy to offset Russian oil and to reduce America’s pain at the pump,” as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) put in a speech on Monday.

The U.S. is on track to set an oil production record next year, Biden boasted.

“It’s simply not true that my administration or policies are holding back domestic energy production,” he said.

Neither climate investments nor the measures favored by the oil and gas industry would do much to bring down energy prices in the short-run. Instead, the two sides are feuding over what Washington should do to prevent another supply shock in the future.

“This is not all about what’s going to make a difference today, but what are we doing to set ourselves up for the longer-term strategy,” said Martin Durbin, the president of the Chamber’s Global Energy Institute.

Biden’s claim that his administration hasn’t restrained domestic energy production doesn’t hold up, Durbin said. He cited the administration’s moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and in federal waters and its failure to approval sign off on new liquefied natural gas export terminals.

“The level of production that we’ve seen in the U.S. is occurring despite the policies that we see from this administration,” Durbin said.

The industry also chafed at Biden’s criticism that oil and gas companies weren’t taking advantage of all the leases they already had.

“We are at a two decade high for the percentage of leases in production, with nearly two out of three leases producing natural gas and oil,” Frank Macchiarola, the American Petroleum Institute’s senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs, said in a statement. “Leases are issued prior to exploration, and not every acreage of leased land has resources to tap into, despite substantial investments by developers.”

A ‘dead-to-rights lie’

Democrats from Biden on down aren’t buying the industry’s arguments.

“The narrative that in the interest of Ukrainians we should ramp up U.S. energy production is a flat-out, dead-to-rights lie,” said Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.).

Passing the climate change provisions included in BBB wouldn’t alleviate the impact of high gas prices immediately, either — but advocates say those policies are a better option than the ones the oil and gas industry is pushing.

“The clean energy solutions are a lot faster in terms of ability to drive down prices than new leases sale and new drilling, said Matthew Davis, LCV’s vice president of civic engagement.

Heat pumps, for instance, “are available right now to be deployed across the Northeast that work at very low temperatures down to zero and below,” he said. “And that means that people wouldn’t need heating oil in their homes. That’s something that could change rapidly.”

The group Climate Power purchased ads in the Capitol Hill newsletter Punchbowl and The Washington Post‘s Climate 202 newsletter this week urging lawmakers to take action. One ad warns that oil “lobbyists are calling for leasing policies that would take years to implement and do nothing to lower costs, while companies sit on over 9,000 unused leases and drilling permits.”

There are echoes of earlier political battles over high gas prices in the Republican attacks on Biden and his efforts to parry them.

Biden warned oil companies in his remarks against “profiteering or price gouging,” in a replay of former president George W. Bush‘s request for the Justice Department to investigate potential price gouging in 2006 when gas prices hit roughly the same level they are now, adjusted for inflation. Democrats, who were seeking to retake the House, attacked Republicans on the issue relentlessly.

Today the political dynamics have shifted, with Republicans blaming Democrats for high gas prices and Democrats blaming Russia.

“Basically, it becomes what you want to peddle versus what maybe the facts are,” former Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), who served as the National Republican Congressional Committee‘s chairman during the 2006 cycle, told The Early.

Nonetheless, Americans were blaming Biden for rising consumer costs even before Russia invaded Ukraine.

But Biden has something Bush never did: a highly visible adversary to blame for high gas prices in Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The good news is we now have a very specific reason for rising gas prices and a specific villain,” Celinda Lake, who served as one of Biden’s top campaign pollsters in 2020 and currently polls for Biden-aligned groups, told our colleagues Sean Sullivan, Mike DeBonis and Marianna Sotomayor. “Before, it was kind of ambiguous: What’s going on? Why are gas prices going up?”

Biden warns Americans ‘there will be costs’ in the U.S. from war in Ukraine

The price to pay: “Biden on Tuesday issued his most expansive warning yet that there would be a significant price for Americans to pay as a result of the war in Ukraine, one that he argued was worth the cost in the name of supporting a fledgling democracy,” our colleague Matt Viser reports.

  • “On a day when he announced the next escalatory step — and the one most likely to reverberate in the United States — Biden also called for further sacrifice.”
  • “This is a step that we’re taking to inflict further pain on Putin, but there will be costs as well here in the United States,” Biden said as he announced a ban on Russian oil imports. “I said I would level with the American people from the beginning. And when I first spoke to this, I said defending freedom is going to cost. It’s going to cost us as well in the United States.”

“The remarks came at a time when Americans are experiencing the ripples of a war unfolding half a world away,” Viser writes. “Companies are disengaging from the Russian economy, shuttering their stores and pulling their products. The stock market has plunged and, in one of the most visible signs, prices at the pump have soared.”

  • “But there has also been an outpouring of sympathy, with Ukrainian flags flown next to U.S. ones on highways. Some Americans have taken to Airbnb to rent homes in Ukraine that they never intend to stay in as a subtle way to help citizens at war.”
  • “But marshaling that collective willingness to sacrifice is still tricky — especially for a country that most Americans can’t pinpoint on a map and has a capital that many still can’t determine how to pronounce.”

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