Energy & Environment

Biden draws ire of GOP, progressives with call to boost OPEC output

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The Biden administration managed to draw criticism from both Republicans and progressives last week when it called on other countries to produce more oil amid high gasoline prices in the U.S.

Environmentalists rebuked the White House for encouraging the use of more fossil fuels at a time when the effects of climate change are intensifying, while Republicans responded by arguing President Biden’s energy policies have increased America’s reliance on foreign oil.

“The progressives see the hypocrisy in President Biden’s action just like we do,” House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (La.) said in an interview Tuesday.

“President Biden said he would be a uniter and I guess he has because he’s uniting conservatives and progressives who are all pointing out that his energy strategy is incredibly anti-American and foolish,” Scalise said.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said the choice should not be between calling for increased production or Americans shouldering higher gas prices.

“The way to give people relief from gas prices is not to expand oil production, because that will extend the life of a dying industry and it will maximize damage to our climate and to people’s lives and to their livelihoods,” she said. “What the Biden administration needs to do is give people direct relief when needed, like Congress did during the pandemic.”

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan last week said OPEC’s recent steps on increased production weren’t sufficient.

“While OPEC+ recently agreed to production increases, these increases will not fully offset previous production cuts that OPEC+ imposed during the pandemic until well into 2022,” Sullivan said in a statement. “At a critical moment in the global recovery, this is simply not enough.”

“President Biden has made clear that he wants Americans to have access to affordable and reliable energy, including at the pump,” he added.

The Biden administration has defended its decision, reiterating its commitment to tackling climate change while pointing out that OPEC has the ability to impact global supply and push down prices.

But OPEC isn’t beholden to the U.S. and has no obligation to abide by its requests. Reuters reported on Monday that OPEC and its allies don’t believe they need to release oil more quickly.

Nevertheless, the administration’s push for increased output drew swift pushback from Republicans, who used it to hammer Biden’s energy agenda.

“We actually succeeded in largely cutting ourselves off from OPEC … to now heading in a direction where we’re going to become dependent on China and OPEC,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) told The Hill.

“The stupidity behind this couldn’t be any greater,” he added.

Republicans pointed to policies that would not have had an immediate impact on oil supply, like the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, but ones they say highlight the administration’s hostility to the fossil fuel industry.

The Keystone decision, along with others like the administration’s now-enjoined pause on new oil and gas leases, was highlighted in a letter to Biden on Monday by 24 Republican lawmakers criticizing the OPEC comments.

“Your Administration’s domestic oil and gas development policies are hurting American consumers and workers, are contrary to an ‘America First’ energy agenda,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

The Keystone XL pipeline expansion was only about 8 percent built when Biden revoked a major permit for it, and it would’ve brought Canadian oil to the U.S. instead of increasing domestic production. The more recent leasing pausing would not impact energy production until next year at the earliest, according to the Energy Information Administration.

But Scalise argued that such actions send important signals to the market.

“There are futures that are involved in this as well, and when people know that for the next three years America’s not going to be competing on the world market for oil, it allows a smaller group of countries and OPEC to control the price,” he said.

For progressives, the administration’s OPEC comments were equally frustrating.

Siegel, of the Center for Biological Diversity, invoked the dire warnings in the latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“The disconnect couldn’t be starker,” Siegel said. “One day the U.N. secretary-general says this climate report is a code red alert for humanity and must be the death knell for fossil fuels … and then two days later the Biden administration urges OPEC to increase oil production.”

The progressive environmentalist group Sunrise Movement, which has frequently pressured the administration on climate issues, also invoked the IPCC report.

“Biden can’t be the climate leader he thinks he is if he’s lobbying oil states to produce more fossil fuels,” said campaign director Deirdre Shelly. “We must ask Biden, what are your real priorities?”

“Instead of lobbying oil states, Biden should be addressing the root cause of this crisis, which is our dependence on fossil fuels,” she added.

A White House official defended the OPEC comments by reiterating the administration’s commitment to climate change while also pushing to make sure people don’t have to pay too much at the pump.

“We have to do two things at once: Achieve our climate goals while ensuring the energy transition accounts for the interests of the middle class and meet global energy needs as the economy recovers from the pandemic,” the official said in an email to The Hill.

“OPEC+ has the power to impact supply now. Global energy markets affect energy prices at home and OPEC+ accounts for a significant portion of the world’s oil production,” the official added.

“That has been the longstanding case which is why we are continuing engagement, like previous Administrations, with relevant OPEC+ members on the importance of competitive, well-functioning markets — and doing more to support the ongoing recovery.”

For Americans who are more concerned about gas prices than either climate change or energy independence, the administration’s move may look better than doing nothing at all.

“When prices are low, voters are happy and they’re not asking questions about why prices are low. … When prices are high, they’re not happy, and that’s when they begin asking questions,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye, while adding that the move made Biden look “weak.”

Numerous presidents have called for other countries to release more oil into the market, but to some GOP opponents, the main difference is that Biden is looking to move the U.S. in a different direction than that of his Republican predecessors.

“Their policies were a hell of a lot better,” Graves said of former Presidents Trump and George W. Bush. “This is night and day.”

Tags Climate change Conservative Environmentalists Fossil fuels Garret Graves gas prices Jake Sullivan Jim Inhofe Joe Biden oil production OPEC+ progressives Steve Scalise

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