Russia’s war against Ukraine has caused a chain reaction that has prompted many countries, including the United States, to increase their production of fossil fuels. After Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the United States, among other countries, imposed sanctions on Russia to put economic pressure on President Vladimir Putin. Russia is one of the United States’ major oil providers, and the absence of Russian oil and natural gas has driven up American gas prices. This sudden inflation has prompted various politicians on both sides to push Biden to revive domestic fossil fuel production despite his campaign promises to work towards clean and renewable energy. Reacting to pressure, Biden recently ordered the release of 1 million barrels of oil per day from the country’s strategic reserves to combat spikes in gas prices.
Biden has instituted policies such as a “use it or lose it” policy to increase short-term oil production, and the White House is now asking Congress to pass legislation to charge oil and gas companies for unused wells and federal leases. Today, oil and gas companies in the United States have more than 9,000 approved but unused permits to drill millions of acres of federal land. In March, Biden signed an executive order banning oil and gas imports from Russia, and Congress passed a law codifying this order into law on April 7. This potential increase in fossil fuel production is contributing to climate change and distancing the United States from Biden’s renewable energy agenda.
The United States has the ability to implement a stronger climate change agenda through Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which includes extensive plans and budgets for moving toward renewable energy—but it has to go through the Senate. The Build Back Better Act, which the House of Representatives passes in late 2021, faces opposition from Democrats in the Senate over its more progressive stance on health insurance reform and prescription drug pricing. But climate-focused elements of the proposal may have a better chance of passing on its own than as part of a larger package, as convincing conservative Democrats to back a narrower agenda would be easier. While the Build Back Better Act remains stuck in the Senate, the Biden administration will have to reintroduce climate change aspects of the package—including a $320 billion clean energy tax credit, $110 billion tax credit on green technology and manufacturing, and $20 billion on purchases. clean energy.
Pressure to find new oil sources has prompted Biden to consider Brazil as a potential source for oil production. An increase in oil imports from Brazil would run counter to an earlier executive order to develop plans to protect the Amazon rainforest by negotiating more climate-friendly policies with the Bolsonaro government. Right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has actively contributed to record levels of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest: One of his first acts as president in 2019 was to strip the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) of its authority to protect indigenous lands and reserves. transferred its authority to the Ministry of Agriculture. His administration also reduced the budget for IBAMA, an environmental protection agency, by 30 percent from 2019 to 2020, and with a smaller staff, the agency is less able to track and combat environmental crimes. Also, since Bolsonaro took office, nearly 1500 new pesticides have been approved, many of which contain ingredients that are not permitted in other countries because they are harmful to human health and the environment.
If Brazil fills the vacuum created by Biden’s ban on Russian oil, the potential for a crude spill will increase, and the negotiating power of the United States for better climate policies will diminish. In September 2019, crude oil began to surface on the Brazilian coast, quickly becoming the most severe environmental disaster in Brazilian history. Despite the dispute over where the oil is coming from, the relative inaction of the Brazilian government after the spill is clear and demonstrates their inability to prepare for future oil-related environmental disasters. After ending two National Oil Spill Contingency Plan committees in early 2019, the federal government has been slow to take action both to prevent oil spills and to clean up the disaster’s impact on the environment. If Biden pushes Brazil to increase its oil production and increase America’s financial interest in the country’s oil industry, he will lose his bargaining power to push for avoided deforestation and other climate change mitigation efforts in Brazil. Biden cannot ask Bolsonaro to reduce deforestation while also accepting Brazil’s fossil fuels. But the Biden administration is currently moving towards fossil fuels and appears poised to accept a near-term solution that doesn’t involve Russian gas or oil.
“The pressure to raise Biden’s approval rating has left talk of climate change on the backburner as Democrats scramble for votes.”
Biden also has plans to export liquefied natural gas to Europe to provide an alternative to Russian natural gas, which makes up 40 percent of Europe’s supply. The Biden administration has described the move as a short-term solution on a larger journey towards renewable energy, but the United States’ role in helping Europe move away from Russian natural gas feels more like a step in the wrong direction than a temporary setback. Natural gas is made mostly of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to planetary warming. The United States and other countries should move away from fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases, even in these dire circumstances, not toward them.
The Biden administration should look to other countries, such as Germany, introducing legislation that will accelerate their climate change goals. The “Easter package” recently approved by their cabinet aims to generate nearly all of the country’s electricity through renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2035 and have net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. not only fossil fuels but also from dependence on Russia as a fuel source.
It is critical that the Biden administration introduce climate change legislation that has a chance of passing before midterm elections in November. With Republicans in the polls and likely to take control of the House and Senate in the fall, climate change legislation should be pushed through as soon as possible. The president’s approval rating is below 50 percent, and with gas prices rising, it will be an uphill battle for Democrats to maintain a majority in the Senate. Pressure to raise Biden’s approval rating has left talk of climate change on the backburner as Democrats scramble for votes.
Climate change is rarely a true priority for politicians and is usually one of the first to be phased out. Despite widespread public support for fighting climate change, real legislation rarely makes it past the Senate. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat who has represented Rhode Island since 2007, answered a question about why, with a Democratic-controlled Congress, environmental progress remains limited: “The Democrats have never taken climate change as seriously as it should. It never puts the energy into it which will create a reaction of public support which will then drive more activity.”
Biden has the opportunity to simultaneously hurt the Russian economy and move the United States toward clean and renewable energy. We cannot waste more time in the fight against climate change. The government must act, and must act now.