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Pain at the pump causes Biden to suffer in polls

This surge in energy prices is ill-timed for the Biden administration, which days earlier played a leading role in the UN climate talks in Glasgow and as Democrats try to push through their $ 1.75 trillion bill that contains the biggest effort ever to tackle climate change. by favoring renewable fuels over petroleum, natural gas and coal.

This gave Republicans an easy line of attack to highlight the stark differences between the energy policies of the two parties.

“The American people will pay dearly for the energy that we do not produce in the United States, because what Joe Biden did in Glasgow was beg OPEC + to sell more energy and produce more oil for the states. -United, ”said Senator John. Barrasso said Tuesday during a Senate committee hearing.

Inflationary pressure has helped push Biden’s approval polls to just 41%, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week. About half of those polled blame the White House for rising inflation – not the supply chain issues associated with the pandemic recovery which most economists believe are most responsible for the price increase.

Republicans also pointed to Biden’s decision in January to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project and later suspend federal land auctions for oil drilling, although energy experts said those actions had failed. had no short-term effect on supply levels or prices.

The White House, which has not commented on the story, recently stressed that it is closely examining the situation.

“The message to the Americans is that we are not only monitoring the situation closely and directly – which, of course, we have done – but that we are examining all the tools in our arsenal,” said the spokesperson for the House. Blanche, Jen Psaki. Friday. “Our view is that the long-term rise in gas prices makes it an even stronger argument to double our investment and focus on clean energy options so that we don’t rely on fluctuations and OPEC. and their willingness to put more supply and meet market demands. “

Democrats have been divided over one of the executive’s easiest tools to use: the strategic oil reserve. The Department of Energy currently holds more than 600 million barrels of crude oil in its storage facilities, which Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said could be used to drive prices down.

The oil industry opposes the use of these barrels to control prices, arguing that the stock is designed to be tapped only when there is a shortage of supply, such as when the DOE released oil in September due to the disruption after Hurricane Ida crippled the Producers’ Gulf. operations in Mexico.

Even Democrats are divided over its use, with Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer over the weekend asking Biden to order an oil release, a move to which House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has said. said on Tuesday that he opposed it.

Meanwhile, energy market experts say rising global oil prices have yet to prompt oil companies and state producers around the world to step up drilling. Even in the United States, oil producers have so far been reluctant to spend money to increase production, fearing another economic shock like the 2020 crash that wiped out their balance sheets and sent dozens of oil drillers into bankruptcy.

This left the Biden administration calling on OPEC countries and Russia to turn on the taps to ease the pressure on prices, a move ridiculed by Republicans as average gasoline prices hover around 3.40 $ per gallon, 60% more than a year ago.

“Inflation is everyone’s concern and you see it everywhere, but nowhere does it have a more direct impact on middle class voters than at the gas station,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) in an interview. . “Biden saying we just need to get Russia and Saudi Arabia to pump more oil is just a bad joke. “

“Do you have pain at the pump?” Biden doesn’t care, ”said Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee. posted on twitter Last week.

Energy market scholars agree that the tactics that were on Friday’s agenda at the White House meeting – or any action by any administration – have little influence on fuel prices short. term.

And some of those talks would likely backfire on Democrats, especially any effort to reduce levels of ethanol blending in the nation’s gasoline pool, a program that farm interests and farm state lawmakers are aggressively championing. Even the possibility of reviewing the renewable fuels standard that governs biofuels has drawn a preemptive rebuke from the industry.

Geoff Cooper, head of the Renewable Fuels Association, a lobby group, said in a letter to Biden Tuesday that they “were shocked to learn that one of the potential actions allegedly discussed by the White House” concerned the reduced ethanol blending requirements. In fact, he noted, the 1.1 billion barrels per day of biofuels that are blended into the fuels were actually driving prices down at the pump.

While the White House is unlikely to launch a political struggle anytime soon with the powerful agricultural industry or its backers in Congress, the surge in US exports could be a ripe target, especially natural gas.

Just five years ago, exports of liquefied natural gas, the super-cooled form of fuel shipped by tankers around the world, now account for more than 10% of US production. Shipping fuel to buyers in Asia and Europe, where prices are much higher than they are even at the high levels customers pay in the United States, means less fuel to contain inflation, noted the senators at a hearing on energy prices Tuesday.

“We are exporting our main advantage in the global economy,” Senator Angus King (I-Maine) said during an energy committee hearing. “We are literally subsidizing Chinese manufacturing by sending them natural gas.”

“I fully agree,” said Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.).

CLIMATE THREAT

Yet Republicans are quick to use the high prices to attack the Biden administration’s support for renewable energy, as well as social spending and the Democrats’ $ 1.75 trillion climate bill, which contains $ 320 billion. dollars in tax relief for energy sources like wind and solar power. to help replace fossil fuels.

The Biden administration has focused its public messages so much on climate change and the shift to renewables that it has become an open target for Republicans on the issue, said Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University at Houston. With less than a year to go before the midterm elections, voters’ anger over high prices could cost Democrats control of the House and Senate – and any hope of more ambitious climate legislation.

“It makes sense to focus on fossil fuels in the short term while in the long term you try to move away from it, but the message is difficult,” Jones said. “On the one hand, you say fossil fuels are destroying the planet; on the other hand, you want to increase production of fossil fuels in the short term to help people’s pocket books.

While the message can be difficult, there appear to be few people in the White House who are qualified to deliver this message, some of the administration’s allies have said. The White House does not have the kind of in-depth experience with fossil fuel markets to go before the public and convincingly explain why fuel prices peaked almost a decade ago and what investments in renewables will protect the country from future market fluctuations, David said. Goldwyn, Atlantic Council analyst and former head of the Clinton and Obama administrations.

“It’s not politically astute to have the public do a Google search to understand the nuances of your position,” Goldwyn said. “They take preventable hits and they don’t fight back the way they should.”

High fuel costs are also a danger to Democrats’ climate priorities, said Kevin Book, director of energy consulting firm ClearView Energy. The party can say its infrastructure package and budget bill contain transformative provisions, including a drilling ban in most federal offshore waters. But rising fuel prices may mean they won’t have many more big bites in that apple anytime soon, he said.

“The energy transition depends on technology and capital, but it also depends on political continuity and voter buy-in,” Book said. “The high prices undermine this membership and could also affect political continuity. “




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