Putin’s tanks had barely crossed the border with Ukraine when the American Petroleum Institute (API) was on Twitter attempt to exploit the crisis. Without even a word of solidarity for the people of Ukraine, API embarked on a series of four demands for the White House, all of which would benefit the industry without bringing aid to Europe or Ukraine. .
All of the talking points from the API, the fossil fuel industry and the GOP during this crisis are based on the idea that they can fool the public into believing that more fossil fuel production in the United States- United will help Ukraine and hurt Putin. In fact, it’s the opposite.
We saw the API and their GOP allies use the same playbook at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when they issued a long list of demands for the Trump administration, which was all too happy to turn the pandemic relief program into a multi-billion dollar gift to Big Oil.
This time we can’t let them get away with it. It starts with loudly and publicly debunking their arguments, then turning to our own real solutions to the energy issues surrounding conflict and the ongoing climate emergency.
First, API called on the White House to issue permits for more drilling on federal lands. This is absurd. Nearly 13 million acres of public land are already leased for oil and gas development and the industry has accumulated thousands of unused leases which they have purchased at rock bottom prices. The reason industry wants more land is not to rush oil and gas to Ukraine, but to be able to claim more reserves and inflate their perceived value. It is land grabbing pure and simple.
Second, since polluting on land is not enough when you can also pollute on water, the API asked the White House to release a new five-year offshore lease plan. The Biden administration once made the mistake of staging the biggest offshore lease sale in US history, but a judge threw it out because it lacked any meaningful climate analysis. Either way, it’s never enough for Big Oil: they want assurances that they can continue to grow in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. How a five-year plan could have any relevance in an immediate conflict is a mystery, but of course that’s not really the question.
Third, the API asked the administration to speed up the energy infrastructure allowing it. This, of course, is the industry’s answer to everything: when in doubt, build more pipelines. The energy infrastructure that the API talks about is not the solar panels and wind turbines that could help free us from our dependence on fossil fuels, but the pipelines, refineries and export facilities that will only worsen our addiction. API likes to claim that more infrastructure will allow the US to somehow flood the global market with enough oil and gas that Putin won’t sell any of it, but that’s not is not how markets work. As long as the world is still dependent on fossil fuels, money will flow to Putin’s regime.
Finally, the API added the catch-all “reduce legal and regulatory uncertainty”, a fancy way of saying, “make sure the rules don’t apply to us”. The big oil companies don’t like the idea of obeying the law, let alone being held accountable in court for the damage they have done to the climate. They also disregard regulations, also known as environmental and public protections, such as clean air and water laws. At this point, the industry can be fairly confident that their donations to Senators Manchin, Sinema and the GOP have killed the most ambitious parts of Biden’s Build Back Better Act, but you can never be too sure.
What is needed now is total mobilization to break our global dependence on fossil fuels.
All of the talking points from the API, the fossil fuel industry and the GOP during this crisis are based on the idea that they can fool the public into believing that more fossil fuel production in the United States- United will help Ukraine and hurt Putin. In fact, it’s the opposite. Current US LNG exports to Europe are an important temporary measure since Europe is still addicted to gas, but it will never be a long-term solution. Indeed, as long as there is European and global demand for fossil fuels, there will be a market for Putin’s poison.
What is needed now is total mobilization to break our global dependence on fossil fuels. Instead of building more fossil fuel infrastructure, the United States should work with Europe and the rest of the world to accelerate the adoption of clean energy technologies. After all, that is what the European Union itself is asking for: early statements from the EU suggest that partly because of the crisis in Ukraine, they are seeking to embark on a major energy security plan based on efficiency and renewable energies.
What if oil and gas prices rise in the meantime? Instead of letting Big Oil continue to rip off consumers at the pump, the Biden administration should take up an idea that is gaining ground in the UK: introduce a windfall tax on the oil industry and use the profits to offset costs to consumers while investing in long-term solutions. The United States already has programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program that could distribute the money in a phased manner to help those who need it most.
Big Oil made record profits last quarter not because of clean innovation, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic and now the crisis in Ukraine. Many would argue that none of the big oil profits are legitimate given the damage they cause to the climate, but the profits from these global crises are particularly ill-deserved.
And what better way for Democrats and the Biden administration to respond to big oil companies’ attempts to profit from this crisis than by having them help offset the costs and pay for the transition away from fossil fuels? It would be a significant contribution from an industry that has long been a driver of conflict rather than an agent of peace.