WASHINGTON – President Biden has taken office, pledging to tackle the planet’s climate crisis. But rising gas prices, driven in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have prompted an environmentally friendly president to do something unlikely: embrace oil.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden traveled to Iowa, where he announced that the Environmental Protection Agency would temporarily lift regulations banning the use of ethanol and gasoline in the summer called E15, which promotes smoking in warmer months. Mr Biden said his government was going to drop the regulation to lower the price of petrol at the pump for many Americans.
“It’s going to help some people and I’m determined to do everything I can to help, even if it’s extra money or two in my pockets when they fill up, it’s important in people’s lives,” Mr Biden said. have taken a tour of a facility that produces 150 million gallons of bioethanol per year. He later added: “When you have a choice, you have competition. When you have competition, you have better prices. “
The announcement of ethanol is Biden’s latest White House move, which goes against a promise he made as a presidential candidate to turn the United States away from fossil fuels. The price of gasoline seems to have changed his calculation. The average cost per liter of gasoline last October was $ 3.32; in March it was about $ 4.32.
Last month, the president introduced a new policy aimed at pressuring oil companies to drill for oil on unused land, saying the companies had thousands “allowed to dig oil if they wanted to.” Why are they not pumping oil? ”Mr Biden also announced the sale of 180 million barrels of oil from the country’s strategic petroleum reserves over the next six months, which is the largest emission in history.
“It will provide a historic amount of supply in historical time,” Mr Biden said at the time.
Mr Biden has been cautious in recent weeks since US sanctions on Russian oil and gas caused energy prices to rise. Even as he has urged oil producers to pump more crude oil, the president has sought to secure his political foundation that meeting the needs of today’s crisis will not distract from the long-term goal of moving away from fossil fuels that drive dangerous climate change. .
The president’s oil hug underscores his awkward position between two competing priorities: the need to reduce US use of fossil fuels and the pressure to respond to rising gas prices.
“I do not think that when his term began, Joe Biden did not think he would spend his second year exploiting the petroleum reserves or fly to Des Moines to approve E15 exemptions,” said Barry Rabe, a professor of political science and environmental policy. University of Michigan.
As his broader climate change program and investment in wind, solar and electric vehicles have largely stalled in Congress, the president’s allies say his short-term oil-backed actions could further disappoint Democrats’ focus on the environment the Democrats need. to attend a session. elections this fall.
“Voters in the climate are likely to be overwhelmed, apart from major legal achievements,” Rabe said.
Mr Biden’s recent actions have drawn criticism from many parts of the environmental community. Mitch Jones, executive director of policy at Food & Water Watch, said in a statement that the decision to lift the summer ban on E15 was “driving us deeper into the pit of dirty fossil fuels”.
White House officials shared the idea that Mr. Biden had turned to fossil fuels. They point out that his environmental policy has always provided for continued confidence in oil and gas while the country takes years of transition to a clean energy source.
And they said the current energy crisis was a clear example of why they believe Congress and Republicans should support switching to other energy sources and reducing US dependence on oil.
“Families need to take their children to school and go to work, get groceries and take care of their lives – and sometimes they need gas today, this month and this year,” said Vedant Patel, a White House spokesman. “But at the same time, we must accelerate – not slow down – our transition to clean energy.
In recent weeks, Biden government officials have announced funding to make homes energy-efficient, launched a new protection plan and said the president would push for defense legislation to encourage domestic extraction and processing of minerals needed to make batteries for electric cars.
Republicans and oil and gas industry advocates have tried to blame high gas prices on Mr Biden’s climate plan, arguing that the price would be lower if the White House had not pursued plans to move the country towards other forms of clean energy.
“Do not blame Putin for the price of gasoline,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, told Fox News earlier this month.
He added: “This is a reaction to the closure of the fossil fuel industry. They are looking for them in every possible way. “
But in reality, Mr Biden has made limited progress in putting his climate plan in place – largely due to opposition from Republicans and the energy industry. Experts say it is difficult to blame higher gas prices for the impact of these proposals, which have yet to be legalized.
For example, Mr. Biden contributed $ 300 billion in tax incentives to harness the market for wind and solar energy and electric vehicles. If enacted, it could reduce the nation’s emissions by approx. 25 percent by 2030. That legislation was passed in the House of Representatives, but stopped in the Senate in opposition to Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat in West Virginia.
Mr Biden has also sought to suspend new oil and gas leases in federal states and lakes, a move that the oil industry has continued to hurt production. However, that lawsuit was overturned by the courts, and last year Mr Biden offered more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico – the largest landlord in history.
Officials estimated that allowing the sale of the ethanol mixture during the summer would shave 10 cents per liter of gasoline purchased at about 2,300 stations in the country that offer it, and considered the decision a step towards “energy independence”.
That’s a small percentage of 150,000 gas stations across the country, according to NACS, a business organization that represents convenience stores.
Mr Biden is also facing growing pressure to lower energy prices, which helped drive the fastest inflation since 1981 in March. A gallon of gasoline averaged $ 4.10 on Tuesday, according to AAA.
Ethanol is made from corn and other crops and has been blended in some types of gasoline for many years to reduce reliance on oil. But higher fluctuations in the mixture can contribute to smog in warmer weather. As a result, environmental groups have traditionally opposed the lifting of the summer-time ban. So do the oil companies, who fear that more ethanol use will reduce their sales.
How much the presence of ethanol keeps fuel prices down has been a topic of discussion among economists. Some analysts said the decision was likely to bring more political benefits than financial ones.
“This is still very, very small compared to the strategic release of petroleum reserves,” said David Victor, a climate policy expert at the University of California, San Diego. “This is a much more transparent political move.
And the environmental benefits of biofuels are being cut down by how it raises corn and food prices, some energy experts say.
Grain lawmakers and industry leaders have urged Mr Biden to fill the gap created by the US ban on Russian exports of biofuels. Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, said the decision was an “important victory” for energy security.
“These are difficult decisions and I do not think they are something they care about,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, vice president of politics at League of Conservation Voters, a non-profit organization. “I believe they are working to do so in a way that does not end up with more fossil fuel infrastructure or pollution for decades, and I think they are as committed as ever to meeting the current climate crisis.