By Irina Slav
A couple of weeks ago I attended a media briefing organised by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. For those of you who are familiar with this nonprofit, don’t get shocked. It’s not like anyone is denying the oil and gas industry pollutes. But pollution as such is not the topic of this article. The topic of this article is promises.
The Biden administration came into office with a lot of promises, most of them focusing on better care for American citizens and cleaner energy for those same citizens. According to PolitiFact, which, I was fascinated to find out, has a promise tracker for the U.S. President, Biden has only broken one of his campaign promises to date. The one about fracking. Or at least so it appears.
One of the central tenets of the Biden-Harris campaign was a reversal of Donald Trump’s energy policy. It was made abundantly clear that the Democratic administration will be investing in and working with the wind and solar industries, with energy storage developers, and anyone even remotely related to anything that contains the word “renewable” in it.
One year in and we have the Department of Energy approving new LNG capacity and the industry investing more in further capacity. One might accurately note here that the Biden administration at least suspended a couple of oil and gas lease sales, which is in tune with its campaign promises. The LNG expansion, however, goes counter to them. And this is why I mentioned the media briefing.
The speakers at this briefing were local activists from Louisiana and Texas working to basically increase regulatory oversight of the industry and improve the living conditions of tens of thousands of people. Those same people who vote and who probably voted overwhelmingly for Biden and Harris because of their promise to clip the wings of oil and gas.
Am I suddenly joining the demonise-oil-and-gas team? Of course not. I have always had a problem with double standards, however, and with hypocrisy, so I would like to take this chance to talk a bit about the little people, the non-politicians, taxpayers, drivers, parents, patients — all of us who invariably foot the bill for politicians’ decisions and bear the consequences of these decisions.
One of the speakers at the media briefing put it perfectly if painfully. We understand that Europe needs energy help, said Roishetta Ozane, the founder of the Vessel Project, a non-profit that provides mutual aid and disaster relief to Southwest Louisiana residents. We understand that, she said, but why are we being turned into sacrificial lambs?
Ozane then talked about air pollution, water pollution, broken promises for local hiring and all the rest of the problems that the energy industry has been criticised for. You know what that lady didn’t do? She didn’t blame the industry singularly. Both Ozane and her fellow speaker John Beard, the founder of the Port Arthur Community Action Network, pointed a finger at the government that promised to deal with bad oil and gas and usher in a new era of wind and solar.
Most of the readers of this newsletter do not have a problem with the oil and gas industry, and neither do I. We are all too aware how essential hydrocarbons are for the proper functioning of any modern economy or even household. Oil and gas are indispensable and will continue to be so for quite a while yet.
But industries — all industries — left to themselves tend to start bending and then stretching, and then breaking the rules. It’s natural. Businesses are not charities. They do what they do to make money and if they can cut corners to save money they will.
Governments, on the other hand, are there to keep an eye on that and prevent the breaking. Apparently, the clean-energy-proud Biden administration is not doing what it is supposed to be doing in this respect. To put it in terms that this administration’s officials can understand, this is not okay.
Neither is it okay that the European Union this week effectively approved higher coal consumption — that’s right. Higher. Coal. Consumption. — and higher resulting emissions in order to accelerate its energy amputation from Russia.
Don’t get me wrong, my first reaction was a burst of laughter but my second reaction was more sober. Over the past decade the EU has managed to transform itself from a sort of pan-continental quasi-government into a pan-continental Church of Renewables. It has been so vocal in its quest for emission reduction that all other and, I dare say, a lot more immediate, problems have been put on the back burner because we need to cut emissions and reach net zero by 2050.
One Twitter reader commented that it’s better for the EU to cut the cord to Russia once and for all, and sleep with a clean conscience. I have a special admiration for people who still have a sense of wonder in them and see geopolitical events in fairy tale terms, as a battle between Good and Evil, in which Evil, of course, is always defeated. If only we did live in a fairy tale, life would be so much simpler.
There is nothing clean about the EU’s conscience, however, no matter how many promises Brussels officials make, how many times Von der Leyen goes to Kiev, and how much money it spends on weapons for the Ukraine. Especially when EU members are rushing to stock up on Russian oil, gas, and coal. And paying billions in rubles for the gas after proudly declaring they will not do that because they’re moral. That’s not even the most outrageous part.
The most outrageous part is that the EU spent years campaigning to businesses and households, to hundreds of millions of little people — non-politicians, taxpayers, drivers, parents, patients — that they must watch their energy consumption, that they must be more considerate of emissions and that they must pay to emit because it’s all their fault.
The EU has been taking its population on a guilt trip and now there are suddenly more important things than emission reduction. Things like energy dependencies that the EU could have spent these years working on reducing instead of only now looking for ways to reduce them, effectively reducing itself to a bunch of chickens running around with their heads cut off. Too harsh? Tell that to the minimum-wage workers who are barely scraping by already and we haven’t seen the worst of the energy crisis yet.
It seems both the U.S. administration and the EU administration have run into the wall that is reality. It’s hard and it must have hurt, judging by the desperate attempts they are making to shun responsibility.
Take this highly entertaining exchange between Energy Secretary Granholm and Republican Senator Josh Hawley from this week, for instance, as carried by Fox News (a video of the exchange was also included).
Citing the cost of gasoline in his home state of Missouri, as well as projections for even higher gasoline prices during the summer months, Hawley asked Granholm whether she believed the current energy crisis Americans are facing is “acceptable.”
“No it is not,” she said. “And you can thank the activity of Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine and pulling essentially–”
“Oh nonsense,” Hawley interjected. “With all due respect, madam secretary, that’s utter nonsense. In January 2021, the average gas price in my state was $2.07. Eight months later, eight months later, long before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, that price was up over 30% and it’s been going up consistently since. What are you doing to reverse this administration’s policies that are drawing down our own supply of energy in this country that are throttling oil and gas production in the United States?”
And here’s a quote from a Bloomberg report on European gas buyers being perfectly willing to pay for Russian gas in rubles, especially in the absence of concrete guidance from the European Commission, whose job, among others, is to provide such guidance.
The bloc has issued two sets of guidance on the matter so far, both of which allow room for interpretation. There’s still nothing in writing from the Commission that explicitly stops companies from paying Gazprom PJSC in a way that the Russian company has indicated would be satisfactory.
It turns out, then, that all those threats that Russian gas buyers from Europe would be prosecuted for sanction violation were nothing but empty posturing. It also turns out Poland and Bulgaria “sacrificed” themselves for nothing. Some people in the two capitals must be feeling quite stupid right now. I would if I’d made such a rash decision only to show how pro-Euro-Atlantic I am. Meanwhile, consumer inflation keeps soaring. And, apparently, so will be coal consumption in the EU.
Someone — some local political analyst or other — said earlier this year that many EU governments might not make it to the end of the year. And this is the best thing about what still passes for democracy: when you’ve had quite enough of the people who were supposed to make your life better, you get a chance to get rid of them. Unless they’re entrenched deep in the seats of power but that’s a whole other can of worms, to be opened some other time.