Op-ed: An Encore at the Left’s Energy Theater

June 20, 2022

By Oliver McPherson-Smith and Samuel Buchan

The latest act of the Biden Administration’s energy policy tragicomedy debuted in the Senate earlier this month. In the limelight was Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s top energy diplomat, who appeared before a Senate Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation. While the event was billed as a briefing on the energy situation in Europe, like a tired stage production, it quickly became a rendition of the Left’s frayed energy fantasies before an incredulous audience.

With a rapid-fire revision of recent history, the performance quickly established itself as a farce with tragic consequences. In his first few answers, Mr. Hochstein asserted that Europe had found its own way into a precarious situation and that it was up to the United States to find a solution. The energy maestro of Foggy Bottom also threw in, for good measure, that he had long warned about the political risks of Europe’s reliance upon Russian energy.

Despite his promises on the campaign trail of being ‘tough on Russia,’ President Biden broke from the Trump-era precedent and gifted sanctions waivers for Russia’s prized Nord Stream 2 pipeline. That was despite a bipartisan majority of senators seeking to sanction the project and a wide recognition that it would enshrine European reliance on Russian energy. The administration’s ex-post prophesies must have seemed odd to an audience of senators who were personally lobbied by Mr. Hochstein and Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland just six months ago to vote against sanctioning the pipeline before the war began.

Team Biden’s vow to make the American energy industry the savior of Europeans also sits at odds with its own war on domestic production. As a loose indication of the industry’s health, there are currently 727 oil and natural gas rigs operating in the United States. That is a mere fraction of the 1,083 that were in operation in 2018.

It is clear the Biden Administration’s only plan is to affix blame to someone other than themselves. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm had previously described the industry as “already teetering over supply chain constraints because of COVID-19,” yet  the Left has added insult to injury by peddling accusations of “war profiteering” and “price gouging,” prompting the threat of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s tax hikes. It should be no wonder that American crude production still sits more than a million barrels a day short of its pre-pandemic levels, and natural gas is around three times more expensive today than when President Biden took office.

Despite the Left’s indifference to the energy crisis at home, the Biden Administration has shown a sudden concern for the economic impact of soaring energy prices on Western Europe. While Americans bear the brunt of Biden’s war on domestic energy, according to the recent Senate hearing, the administration’s diplomatic emissaries have made protecting French and German pocketbooks their priority.

Nonetheless, the supporting characters in the Left’s recent energy policy theater deserve a special mention. As the subcommittee chairman, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire politely recognized the difficult situation in Ukraine before admonishing the war-ravaged country for being among the most energy inefficient in Europe. While Ukraine is besieged by a neighboring nuclear power and enduring the horrors of genocide, the Left’s script dictates that the importance of energy-saving LED lightbulbs be affirmed.

Another notable performance was that of Senator Chris Murphy. The Senator from Connecticut declared himself unimpressed that America’s partners in the Persian Gulf had not done enough to raise oil production — and at his preferred price — to compensate for President Biden’s muddled domestic and foreign policies. Echoing the president’s own pleas, Senator Murphy once again called for greater emissions-intensive foreign oil production in lieu of clean American production. Per the Left’s script, the environment is the first victim in the fight against climate change.

The sub-plot of this stage production is that, in Mr. Hochstein’s words, “The most effective way to reduce demand for Russian fossil fuels is to reduce dependence on all fossil fuels.” But the Faustian rush to adopt intermittent renewable energy sources overlooks the new geopolitical reliance it would create. China controls the bulk of the solar power manufacturing supply chain, which is tainted by modern slavery, as well as a significant portion of the critical minerals needed for energy storage. The Biden Administration’s vision leads a desperate flight away from one genocidal dictatorship into the arms of another, which has previously used its control of supply chains to punish dissenting democracies.

Americans need a federal energy policy, not performative virtue signaling. The recent encore of the Left’s tired routine should be their last. Strength at home leads to strength abroad. The United States is best positioned to support the economic well-being of its own population and support its partners and allies abroad when it makes the best use of its natural resources. It’s time for a curtain call on the energy policy theater.

Oliver McPherson-Smith is a Senior Fellow at the America First Policy Institute’s Center for Energy Independence.

Samuel Buchan is the former Director of International Economic Policy at the National Security Council and is the Director of America First Policy Institute’s Center for Energy Independence.

Read the op-ed on Real Clear Energy.