Green groups say gas crisis makes transition to renewables even more urgent
Environmentalist groups and Democrats see the recent ban on imports of Russian oil and the ban’s effects on American gas prices as a further incentive to accelerate development of renewable energy.
The ban came the same week average gas prices in the U.S. hit a record high, and although the U.S. only imports a fraction of oil from Russia, during his speech announcing the ban, President Biden acknowledged the move would likely lead to even higher prices.
Republicans and the fossil fuel industry have said the crisis demonstrates the need for further fossil fuel exploration domestically, but Democrats and environmentalists argue the economic pinch underscores the need to make the U.S. more energy independent, and to invest in green solutions.
“[M]ost of my colleagues across the aisle seem to think that the way to reduce your exposure to a volatile commodity is to increase your use of a volatile commodity,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) told The Hill in an interview.
If the Russian import ban leads to increased domestic production of fossil fuels, Casten said, “all that’s going to happen is that our country is going to be even more fossil-fuel dependent, we are going to set the world on fire faster for our kids, and we are going to be even more exposed the next time Vladimir Putin or [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman] or whoever else does something that gooses global energy markets, because I can guarantee that there will be a next time.”
The Ukraine crisis has demonstrated “how the dependence on oil completely destabilizes the lives of working people within our country,” said John Paul Mejia, national spokesperson for Sunrise Movement.
Mejia criticized what he called “talking points from the oil and gas industry” in the U.S. that argue “energy independence will somehow be achieved by depending more so on oil and gas, just American, and that’s a false solution.”
Members of the administration have also signaled that they view the crisis as highlighting the need to transition.
“This conflict [in Ukraine] has made it clear to us that we should double down and triple down on the transition, and to make it broader, bigger and faster,” Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s energy envoy, said Tuesday at the CERAWeek energy conference.
In a tweet Tuesday, President Biden himself suggested the transition to renewables would be the long-term solution to the energy crunch.
“Loosening environmental regulations won’t lower prices,” he wrote. “But transforming our economy to run on electric vehicles, powered by clean energy, will mean that no one will have to worry about gas prices. It will mean tyrants like Putin won’t be able to use fossil fuels as a weapon.”
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) echoed the sentiment Thursday, tweeting “The U.S.’s dependence on fossil fuels is bad for our planet, susceptible to geopolitical division, and harmful to the American people. It’s time we focus on the future by shifting our dependency to clean energy sources.”
But the biggest obstacle to transitioning to renewable energy remains the lack of existing infrastructure for rapid deployment, as well as the cost barrier for technology such as electric vehicles for the average American.
Advocates have argued the White House could significantly accelerate the process by invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA).
The DPA allows the president to direct private companies to prioritize developing materials crucial to national defense interests. Since taking office, Biden has used it to increase production of both protective equipment relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and production of fire hoses during the 2021 wildfire season.
“What we really need to do in order to push back against petro-states like Russia is to transition off fossil fuels and end the fossil fuel era,” Maya Golden-Krasner, the deputy director and senior attorney of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Hill. “And one thing that we’ve been pushing and one way to do it is under the Defense Production Act.”
By invoking the DPA, Golden-Krasner said, Biden “can actually aggressively accelerate manufacturing and deployment of renewable energy technologies”.
Golden-Krasner acknowledged that this would not address the immediate problem of pain at the pump for Americans who have to drive every day. However, she said, a solution that focuses on increased fossil fuel production will simply leave the U.S.— and U.S. consumers — equally vulnerable to future crises and the price increases that accompany them.
“[T]he only way to protect us from price spikes is to rapidly transition us as fast as possible,” she said. “We’re going to be vulnerable to price spikes as long as we are part of the global fossil fuel energy market.”
In a call with reporters Thursday, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, expressed support for invoking the DPA, calling it a “practical and logical next step for the administration.”
The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment on whether invoking the DPA for renewable energy is under discussion.
On Thursday, asked whether the DPA was under discussion for increased oil production, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said such a move would be subsidizing oil companies to do “what they probably already have the capacity to do.”