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With Oil and Gas Prices Skyrocketing, Biden Needs to Promote Clean Energy

Op-ed

Four weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy markets have experienced extreme volatility. The West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark for North American crude oil, has seen an astonishing 21 point spike since the invasion started on February 24th. The national average gas price has increased from $3.59 to $4.24 in just the last month, a 65 cent jump. The government's actions during this crisis could set the direction of U.S. energy policy. Young people will be especially affected since our use of energy resources over our entire lifetimes could be altered by the rapid developments of the next few weeks. It is imperative that we use this time to push for a sustainable future.

Photo Credit: Bloomberg

Biden's actions

Russian oil accounts for 10% of the global supply and 3% of U.S. oil consumption. With the recent ban on oil, liquified natural gas, and coal imports from Russia as part of U.S. sanctions against the country and a worldwide reluctance among large energy companies to buy Russian resources, it is natural for prices to rise. In response, Biden has kept a focus on lowering gasoline prices. In his State of the Union address on March 1st, the President remarked:

“Tonight, I can announce that the United States has worked with 30 other countries to release 60 million barrels of oil from reserves around the world. America will lead that effort, releasing 30 million barrels from our own Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And we stand ready to do more if necessary, unified with our allies. These steps will help blunt gas prices here at home.”

What other leaders are saying

This rhetoric is in stark contrast to that of many other politicians in the United States and Europe. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico tweeted on March 10th, “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.” On March 8th, the European Union unveiled a plan to accelerate its transition to renewables through numerous measures, including improving energy efficiency. Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, said in a statement, “We need to act now to mitigate the impact of rising energy prices, diversify our gas supply for next winter and accelerate the clean energy transition.”

Photo Credit: Kerwin Edward Lara

What Biden should do

Clearly, Biden wants to avoid appearing opportunistic in a time of war and has therefore decided not to connect two of his administration’s efforts, tackling climate change and cutting off Russian fossil fuels from U.S. markets. Biden needs to change his strategy. By putting steps towards campaign promises on hold for fear of damaging his public image, Biden is missing out on a unique moment that could supercharge the country’s energy transition. The United States is the wealthiest, most influential country in the world. The future is renewables, so it only makes sense that we lead the way towards a greener future, not follow in other countries’ footsteps. We need to shift government subsidies from nonrenewables to solar and wind energy, put higher tariffs on fossil fuel imports, and invest in research to lower the costs of clean energy production.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Historical Context

This is not a time to encourage foreign countries and domestic companies to produce more fossil fuels. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the need for the west to achieve energy independence and economic protection from volatile commodities such as oil and natural gas. History has shown that dependence on foreign countries for energy only leads to economic strife. In 1973, oil shortages and elevated prices were sparked by the Yom Kippur War. There were similar trends in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. Just 2 years ago during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, oil prices dipped so low that the U.S. considered restricting imports to protect domestic producers. As of today, the Russo-Ukrainian War and sanctions on Russia by the West don’t seem to show signs of ending. That might change in a day, a week, or a century; the United States economy shouldn’t have to depend on such uncertain prospects. President Biden has argued that the transition to clean energy will take decades to fully implement and has used this as justification for his efforts to reduce gas prices. There is some merit to this argument. No drastic change to human society has been implemented in a day. This is the reason why it took more than 5000 years for agriculture to become more widespread than hunting and gathering in the Neolithic Revolution and why boats have existed for 8000 years but have only been made out of metal since the 1800s. The difference with clean energy is that we have the knowledge and resources to make the transition right now. We should not wait another quarter-century and make a half-hearted effort when we are able to attack this problem at full speed. Our government must take to heart the ancient Latin aphorism “Carpe Diem”: seize the day.

Vittal Sivakumar

Vittal is an environmental opinion writer living in Houston. He is currently a junior in high school.