Team Biden goes on defense over mixed signals on energy, climate

Team Biden had to play defense Monday after suffering a self-inflicted dent to his reputation ahead of the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, when he urged other major energy producers to pump more oil.

Climate czar John Kerry insisted there was “no inconsistency” between the administration’s aggressive climate change position and Mr. Biden’s effort to persuade OPEC and Russia to open up supply amid a global energy crisis.

“It’s just not inconsistent,” Mr. Kerry said in a conference call with reporters. “If it were, if he were asking them to boost their production over five years, I’d quit. But he’s not. He’s asking them to boost production in this immediate moment.”

The day before, Mr. Biden played defense at the end of the Group of 20 meeting of leaders of industrial and emerging-market nations in Rome, where he made the plea for more fossil fuel. Although he agreed that “on the surface, it seems like an irony,” he said it wasn’t inconsistent at all.

“But the truth of the matter is — you’ve all known; everyone knows — that the idea we’re going to be able to move to renewable energy overnight and not have — from this moment on, not use oil or not use gas or not use hydrogen is just not rational,” Mr. Biden said.

He said that the world is “going to stop subsidizing those fossil fuels,” but that it wasn’t realistic to stop using them immediately.

He added that “the idea that Russia and Saudi Arabia and other major producers are not going to pump more oil so people can have gasoline to get to and from work, for example, is not right.”

What galls his critics, led by Republicans, is the specter of Mr. Biden pleading with the OPEC nations and Moscow to turn on the spigots amid a pandemic surge in demand after taking a scythe to U.S. producers.

Shortly after taking office, Mr. Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline project and placed a moratorium on new fossil-fuel leases on federal lands and waters, undercutting domestic production and depressing investment.

Since January, U.S. gasoline prices have soared by 40%, creating pain at the pump for U.S. consumers and taking a toll on Mr. Biden’s poll numbers.

“And, by the way, when the cost of a gallon of gasoline gets to above … $3.35 a gallon, it has [a] profound impact on working-class families just to get back and forth to work,” Mr. Biden said. “So, I don’t see anything inconsistent with that.”

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, blasted what she described as the Biden administration’s “rank hypocrisy” on energy.

“It’s rank hypocrisy to do everything to squelch American oil production, which sends working-class jobs overseas while asking Russia and OPEC to increase their production,” she said. “The effects of President Biden’s climate policies — high prices, scarcity, lost jobs — are already coming home to roost.”

She said Americans could “expect more of the same if these policies are not reversed and the House’s reconciliation bill passes.”

“American is following the misguided climate lead of Europe which will only boost our enemies in China and Russia who aren’t buying into failed policies that kill manufacturing and energy production,” Ms. Sgamma said.

Mr. Biden also apologized for a lack of U.S. leadership on climate change, referring to President Trump’s decision to exit the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize for the fact [that] the United States, the last administration, pulled out of the Paris accord and put us sort of behind on the eight-ball,” Mr. Biden said.

The president has vowed to reduce U.S. emissions 50% to 52% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 to help limit global temperature increase to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, the goal of the Paris accord.

Mr. Kerry said the president’s “Build Back Better” plan, which was recently cut from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion amid infighting from moderate and left-wing Democrats, would reduce U.S. reliance on fossil fuels.

“We’re all trying to facilitate the transition,” said Mr. Kerry. “And as the transition cuts in, there won’t be that need as you deploy the solar panels, as you deploy the transmission lines, as you build out the grid.”

He acknowledged the political realities surrounding higher fuel prices, saying that “if life is so miserable that you don’t, and the prices go up and other things happen, you’re going to lose — I think it becomes more challenging to get the job done.”

Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, accused Mr. Biden of “punishing America’s economy while pretending to protect the environment.”

“The president wants to kill abundant and affordable U.S. energy sources like oil, natural gas, and coal that Americans depend on,” he said in a Monday statement. “The White House’s plan is a recipe for disaster. It will result in skyrocketing power bills, less reliable energy, and fewer jobs for the American people. Shutting down the United States’ economy won’t fix climate change. It will only enrich China.”

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