Environmentalists: Tapping Emergency U.S. Oil Reserves Is Necessary—But Also a Reminder That We Need To Quit Fossil Fuels

(WASHINGTON) — Democrats and climate activists generally supported President Joe Biden’s decision to release a record 50 million barrels of oil from America’s strategic reserve, even as the move appeared to contradict his long-term vision of combating climate change.

In coordination with other countries, such as India and China, Tuesday’s U.S. announcement aimed to improve global energy markets, and lower gas prices, which have increased more than one dollar per gallon in the past year. But it could also undermine Biden’s climate goals, including a 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
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However, some climate hawks said that they are not worried about the decision because it is a temporary solution to a particular problem. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who has focused on combating climate change, said Biden was “taking effective action to protect Americans from oil price gouging” even as the administration continues to boost renewable energy that it hopes will eventually mean less dependence on fossil fuels.

“This is what reserves are for — defending our economy against disruption,″ Markey tweeted. “Profiteering can’t go unanswered, especially as Big Oil makes billions and fuels the climate crisis through exports.″

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (or Strategic Petroleum Reserve) is an emergency storage that allows oil to be available in case of national security or natural disasters. The Energy Department maintains the reserves. They are kept in caverns in salt domes located along both the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coasts. The reserve contains approximately 605 million barrels worth of petroleum.

Markey and the other Democrats had requested that Biden release oil from its reserve to reduce consumer prices. The president has been urged to reinstate the 2015 ban on oil exports. Biden has not moved to repeal the 2015 ban on crude oil exports. This was done in an effort to maintain U.S. energy dominance, and to promote domestic production.

Biden, who is allowed to make an emergency declaration and stop or limit oil exports for upto one year under the law, can do this. But it shouldn’t be expected.

Kelly Sheehan, senior director of energy campaigns with the Sierra Club, hailed Biden’s actions as a way to ease Americans’ energy burdens. But she said the current spike in oil prices was a reminder that “the only way to truly achieve energy security is to rapidly transition away from risky fossil fuels like oil and gas and make it easier for more people to access clean energy.″

Lorne Stockman, research director of Oil Change International, an environmental group focused on creating a “fossil-free future,″ said Biden should have acted sooner, if only to counter a barrage of Republican criticism blaming him for high gasoline prices.

“Presidents are always blamed for high gas prices, whether they have anything to do with it or not,″ Stockman said, calling the measure a small step to bring short-term relief to American consumers.

Learn more The Fight to Control the Narrative over Climate Change and Energy Security

Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, Biden said the rise in gas prices made the move necessary and that it wouldn’t distract from his larger ambitions of moving toward energy independence.

“My effort to combat climate change is not raising the price of gas,” Biden said. “What it is doing is increasing the availability of jobs building electric cars like the one I drove … in a GM factory in Detroit last week.”

Americans who buy electric cars will save up to $1,000 in fuel costs this year, Biden said, “and we’re going to put those savings within reach of more Americans and create jobs installing solar panels, batteries and electric heat pumps. We can make our economy and consumers less vulnerable to these sorts of price spikes when we do that.”

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Biden stated that the White House is investigating possible price gouging in oil companies, which squeeze customers and make money from lower prices. Jennifer Granholm, Energy Secretary to the United States, said that U.S. firms were keeping their production levels below those of pre-pandemic in an effort to boost profits.

Coronavirus has disrupted energy markets. Oil futures prices fell as a result of the closures that began in April 2020. The energy traders didn’t want to be stuck with crude oil they couldn’t store. As the economy started to recover, however, October saw prices rise seven times as high.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., called Biden’s use of the strategic reserve, along with calls for OPEC and Russia to increase production, “desperate attempts to address a Biden-caused disaster” and no substitute for increased American energy production.

Lukas Ross, manager of climate and energy justice at Friends of the Earth, another environmental group, said the spike in gas prices shows that “our continued dependence on a volatile compound that is literally cooking the climate is exactly why we need” Biden’s sweeping social and environmental bill approved as quickly possible.

The House approved the $2 trillion bill and the Senate is currently awaiting action. It includes $550 billion to support climate change efforts. This includes proposals to increase wind power, solar energy, and electric cars. Republicans voted against the bill unanimously.

Biden has said the U.S. needs to transition away from oil dependence, and “now is the moment to keep that promise by urgently speeding the transition to electric cars and a renewable energy grid,” said Kassie Siegel, director of a climate law institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, another environmental group.

“Price volatility will always be part of Big Oil’s playbook,” she added. “Let’s break their stranglehold on our economy once and for all.”


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