The Biden administration's support for more oil and gas production to lower soaring energy prices has angered key environmentalist constituencies and sent officials away to insist that they aren't compromising their green agenda.
The administration maintains that more domestic oil production is necessary to help bring down gasoline prices, and it has embraced liquefied natural gas as a salve to Europe's energy crisis in the face of the war in Ukraine, despite previously putting new limits on the fossil fuel industry as a means of tempering climate change.
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All the while, President Joe Biden and others have said the war and ensuing price crisis illustrate the need to displace oil and gas altogether.
“We need to get off this rollercoaster of relying on oil,” he said on Thursday. “We need to declare America’s energy independence.”
But the administration's year-to-date green achievements, announcement about an expansion of ethanol, and pursuit of renewable energies have been largely overshadowed by calls for more production and more LNG to Europe.
White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy emphasized recently that the war in Ukraine triggered an "emergency" in fuel markets, which has been dictating the administration's policy response.
“The problem is that we have a Putin war that has actually created an emergency, which the president is making sure he takes control of,” McCarthy said. “We believe we can still get [to the climate targets] but we need Congress to help.”
McCarthy also insisted the administration is "not backing down" from what it wants to achieve on building out renewable energy and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. She said the administration is "on target domestically to do what we need to do.”
Several officials, stretching back to the fall of 2021, have maintained that the administration must help to keep the economy healthy in order to facilitate more green energy.
Climate envoy John Kerry dismissed the notion that supporting more fuels now is a "setback" and said Biden seeks "essential stabilization of the economy" in supporting fuel markets now.
"Some people call it short-term political interest. Other people will call it essential stabilization of the economy so that you have the revenues that allow you to be able to do the things you need to do," Kerry told PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff during a Q&A hosted by the Center for Global Development. "If you don't have the consent of the governed, at least in a democracy, it is very hard to be able to move forward the way you need to."
“I don't think the president has walked back one iota,” Kerry also said. “I think he has very reluctantly and importantly had to make some tough decisions. But I think ultimately, this will smooth out.”
Separately, deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday that the White House's current approach seeks to "meet folks where they are."
Jean-Pierre added that the administration can walk and chew gum “because families need to take their kids to school and go to work, get groceries, and go about their lives. And sometimes, that requires gas today, this month, and this year.”
"But at the very same time, we must speed up, not slow down, our transition to clean energy," she said.
While the oil and gas industry has welcomed Biden's support for more production, green groups have not appreciated the administration's needle-threading approach, as illustrated in reaction to the administration's recent reformed oil and gas lease sale announcement, which emphasized that the White House was acting in concert with a federal court's injunction against Biden's leasing pause.
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“There’s no amount of regulation that can change the facts," said Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International. "'Significantly reformed’ oil and gas lease sales will still result in selling off our public lands for deadly extraction that's hurting communities and driving the climate crisis."