As U.S. oil production was soaring to record levels in December, Biden administration officials were at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Dubai assuring world leaders that the United States would help lead the global transition away from fossil fuels. That dichotomy stood out to Amara Enyia, an activist and policy director for the Movement for Black Lives, who attended the conference, known as COP28.
“There’s this dissonance between the commitments that are being made versus what the administration is actually doing,” she said. “We’re seeing this sort of two-headed approach to climate — on the one hand, drilling permits, and then on the other, talking about the need to move away from fossil fuels.”
For his part, Biden has said his top domestic priority is reducing prices for Americans, and the relief at the pump carries potential benefits for his 2024 prospects.
A short-term boost in domestic oil production and a corresponding decline in gas prices could have a long-term benefit for environmentalists — helping prevent the return to power of Trump and other deniers of climate change, said Josh Freed, the director of climate and energy at the center-left think tank Third Way.
“The fastest way to end all of American climate action is to see oil prices dramatically rise and have Republicans get elected to office,” he said, commending Biden’s handling of the issue.
Whether Biden is successfully walking this tightrope is likely to remain a matter of debate ahead of November’s election. Climate activists say base voters are frustrated by the softening of the president’s stance against fossil fuels, and mobilizing them will prove difficult despite the historic investment the administration is making in green power and accelerating the energy transition.
Climate-conscious voters were particularly dismayed by the administration’s approval of the Willow project, which will allow hundreds of miles of roads and pipelines, airstrips, a gravel mine and a major new processing facility in the middle of pristine Arctic tundra and wetland. For many, that decision was one of several signifying how Biden’s bold campaign promises to take on the fossil fuel companies yielded to dealmaking on permits and a more conciliatory approach toward the industry overall.
“You can’t solve the climate crisis without keeping fossil fuels in the ground,” said Jamie Henn, founder of Fossil Free Media, a nonprofit focused on ending oil and gas use. “Record oil production stands in the way of the energy transition … An ‘all of the above approach’ leads to flip-flopping on fossil fuels. It is bad policy, and also bad politics.” [Continue reading…]