Five actions Biden has taken in response to high gas prices
Gas prices are both a top concern for American consumers and a consistent drag on President Biden’s approval rating, prompting the administration to take several measures to counter pain at the pump.
An ABC News/Ipsos poll in March indicated widespread approval for the president’s decision to ban oil imports from Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, which Biden has warned could exacerbate energy costs. However, the same poll indicated 70 percent of respondents disapprove of Biden’s handling of gas prices.
A number of factors impact gas prices, and experts note many of them are outside the White House’s control. Still, the administration has taken several steps in hopes of providing some temporary or near-term relief.
Here are five actions the Biden administration has taken so far on gas prices:
1. Releasing oil from the strategist reserve
Biden initially announced a release of 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in November in response to rising gas prices.
However, after a further spike around the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, Biden announced another one-time release of 30 million barrels followed by an average daily release of 1 million barrels over the next six months — or about 180 million barrels overall.
Biden told reporters in late March that the price of gas “could come down fairly significantly” as a result of the move.
In the days after, gas prices fell about eight cents, according to AAA, although they have since crept up. However, during the same period, some regions of China imposed lockdowns in response to new COVID-19 outbreaks, which reduced overall demand.
“This is a wartime bridge to increase oil supply until production ramps up later this year. And it is by far the largest release from our national reserve in our history,” Biden said as he announced the release. “It will provide a historic amount of supply for a historic amount of time — a six-month bridge to the fall.”
2. Removing restrictions on sale of higher-ethanol fuel
In an executive order last week, Biden removed restrictions on the sale of E15, or fuel that is 15 percent ethanol, between June and September of this year.
Ethanol-heavy fuel is sold at a limited number of stations concentrated in corn-producing states, and sales are normally restricted during the summer months due to concerns that another mix, E10, could contribute to increased air pollution. Ethanol and renewable fuel industries, however, maintain that tailpipe emissions, rather than fuel volatility, is a bigger contributor to smog, and that E15 is less of a contributor than E10.
Biden administration officials projected at the time that the availability of E15 could save a family about 10 cents per gallon on average.
“This will also help us bridge towards real energy independence and implementing the emergency fuel waiver the [Environmental Protection Agency] EPA will work with states across the country to ensure there are no significant air quality impacts in the summer driving season,” an official said on a call with reporters. “EPA is also considering additional action to facilitate the use of E15 year-round, including continued discussions with states who have expressed interest in allowing year-round use of E15.”
3. Asking oil-producing nations to increase production
The U.S. has appealed to members of OPEC to step up production and exports to cover demand, including Saudi Arabia in particular.
However, this plan has encountered difficulties due to the rocky Washington-Riyadh relationship.
The Biden administration has faced tensions with the Saudis due to America’s vocal criticism of the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record, particularly the Yemen civil war and the 2018 killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Meanwhile, human rights advocates have called it inconsistent to seek closer ties with Saudi Arabia while seeking to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
“I hate that the Biden administration has to figure out how to leverage our relationship with Saudi Arabia to get them to do that so that my constituents aren’t being squeezed at the pump,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) told reporters in March.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who numerous intelligence agencies have concluded ordered Khashoggi’s killing, reportedly refused a call from Biden soon after the Russian invasion. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has denied the report.
4. Pressuring U.S. oil companies
Republicans have vocally blamed the Biden administration’s energy policies, in particular an executive order freezing new oil and gas leasing on public lands, for gas prices and insufficient supply.
That pause has been in limbo since a court order halting it last summer, and the Biden administration last Friday officially announced a forthcoming lease sale.
In the meantime, however, the administration has sought to shift the blame to oil companies and accused them of gouging customers, pointing to the industry’s numerous currently unused leases, which include some 9,000 approved drilling permits.
Biden has called for Congress to enact a “use it or lose it” policy that would impose fees on companies that do not make use of their leased land.
“I have no problem with corporations turning a good profit. But companies have an obligation that goes beyond just their shareholders to their customers, their communities and their country,” Biden told reporters in late March. “No American company should take advantage of a pandemic or [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s actions to enrich themselves at the expense of American families.”
5. Promoting the transition to renewable energy
Amid concrete steps to bring down consumer prices, the Biden administration has emphasized the necessity for increased support and infrastructure for renewable fuels, saying the current market illustrates the need for less volatile resources.
In a fact sheet distributed to reporters, the administration presented its steps to increase access to clean energy as a key tenet of its response to gas prices.
Specifically, officials pointed to sales of offshore wind leases, with a goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind installed by the end of the decade. Officials further cited the Interior Department’s road map this week that sets a target of doubling clean energy permits, with a goal of 25 gigawatts installed by 2025.
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