The Bureau of Labor Statistics informed that there was a 7.9% increase in prices between February 2021 and February 2022. As prices rise in record manner, inflation has become one of the most important issues being debated in U.S. politics, and Biden’s oil policy is now at the center of the debate, as the spectacular rise in energy prices have been one of the most influential factors in the overall inflation rate in America.
As expected, politicians have started to include their own narratives to explain the rise in energy costs (especially gas prices) to the voters. Since high prices in the pump are historically not a good omen for the party in power, President Biden and his team have spent a good time defending their energy policy record as opponents have attacked the administration for not prioritizing fossil fuel production, blaming him for the gas price hikes.
President Biden has blamed the imminent further rise in gas prices on Putin, has parried Republican attacks over domestic oil production by saying there are more than 9,000 unused oil drilling permits, and has also said “it is simply not true” that his government has enacted policies aimed at halting domestic oil production. Let’s see how these claims check with reality.
The “Putin’s price hike” line is good for polling, not much for telling the truth.
President Biden has linked the hike in prices to the Russo-Ukrainian war, saying that his administration will take steps to “minimize Putin’s price hike at home,” while White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said to reporters aboard Air Force One that Americans were facing higher gas prices due to “the actions of President Putin.” This claim is half-true, at best.
It is true that oil prices did increase significantly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the Brent price going from $93 on February 21 to $127.98 on March 8. Gas prices have also increased in the country, with the AAA average price increasing from $3.488 a month ago to $4.325 today. It is also accurate that Russia provides approximately 8% of U.S. imports, and a ban on Russian oil would surely have an effect on the gas price.
However, the Administration is forgetting to show the entire picture. The American consumer has been paying high gas prices for a long time before Russian tanks invaded Ukraine. According to the Energy Information Administration, the gas prices went from $2.420 per gallon in January 2021 to $3.406 per gallon in December.
Of course, President Biden also blamed third-actors over the rising gas prices last year, saying that the hike was caused by the greed of big oil corporations, even signing an executive order to investigate corporations over gas prices. Hence, while it is true that the ban on Russian oil and the Russian-Ukrainian war will have an effect on oil, press secretary Psaki and Biden appear to forget that the gas price rise began months before Putin send his troops to invade Ukraine.
The “9,000 unused oil drilling permits” claim is missing a lot of context.
Biden has also defended himself over Republican claims that his administration has waged a war against domestic oil production and turned the accusation against oil corporations themselves. The President said during a press conference that “they have 9,000 permits to drill now. They could be drilling right now, yesterday, last week, last year (…) let me be clear: they are not using them for production now. That’s their decision. These are the facts. We should be honest with the facts.”
The figure that Biden is mentioning refers to the number of leases in federal land that the government has approved for oil production. Legally speaking, once the government approves those permits private companies can start drilling and oil production. However, the reality is more nuanced and complicated than the picture painted by the President.
After the government has approved the permits, companies still need to coordinate with contractors to develop oil rigs, get new permits for those, secure rights, look up funding and develop a drilling plan. In other words, it is a long process that depends on a myriad of factors that go beyond the government approving a lease.
Biden’s oil policy has been an adversarial one
President Biden has also argued that his administration has not made any decision that has been aimed to stop domestic oil production. Although this statement is by nature open to a subjective debate and evaluation, there is very credible evidence on the contrary.
One of the first decisions by President Biden was to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline in response to pressures by environmentalist groups, a move that curtailed the ability of the United States to transport oil directly from Canada. Although the pipeline was canceled before its construction, meaning that the effect of the decision in gas prices is open to debate, the cancellation was the first salvo of a series of adversarial policies by the Biden White House on domestic oil production.
As mentioned before, the FTC opened an investigation on oil companies over the price rises, a decision that was heavily opposed by energy companies. Furthermore, the Biden White House has also proposed a regulation that would make it more difficult for financial firms to invest in domestic oil production as they would have to now consider the ecological effects of climate change when making an investment decision.
Biden has also frozen the issue of new drilling permits on federal lands numerous times. In fact, Biden signed an executive order in his first day at office ordering a 60-day pause on new permits, and he repeated the move just a few weeks ago when his administration decided to halt new permits amid a legal fight with oil companies over how to calculate the economic costs of climate change.