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U.S. lawmakers are using the Ukraine crisis to push for domestic energy production

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

In the flurry of U.S. sanctions against Russia, there's been a notable omission - oil and gas. Global oil prices are already soaring, and the White House has been hesitant to block Russian energy imports because it says that would only worsen the price problem. But as NPR's Nathan Rott reports, that's not stopping lawmakers who want a boost in domestic energy production.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Most of what Republican lawmakers in the oil and gas industry are calling for in the U.S. is not new. The Keystone XL pipeline, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, fast-tracking export terminals - all of these have been debated in the U.S. for more than a decade. But Russia's invasion of Ukraine has given the argument a new twist and shot of urgency. Here's South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham at a press event earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: If the Ukrainians can stand up to a tank, surely to God, we can produce more oil and gas.

ROTT: Republican lawmakers and fossil fuel groups like the American Petroleum Institute have sent the Biden administration wish lists - actions they'd like to see taken to increase domestic energy production. They include the projects mentioned earlier and an end to the moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters. Mike Sommers is the president and CEO of API.

MIKE SOMMERS: We need, you know, this administration to be promoting U.S. energy leadership during this time of crisis and not putting new restrictions in place that are going to hinder development now and in the future.

ROTT: Much of the rhetoric around oil and gas production in the U.S. is misleading. The Biden administration has signaled that it wants to move the country away from climate-warming fossil fuels, but it has not stopped development like critics claim. In fact, liquid natural gas export terminals are at capacity right now. The industry is sitting on thousands of unused leases, and an analysis by the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen late last year found that Biden has approved more oil and gas drilling permits on public lands per month than Trump did in his first three years.

DAVID KIEVE: Oil and gas drilling regulation has already been loosened.

ROTT: David Kieve is president of EDF Action, the advocacy arm of the Environmental Defense Fund. He and other green groups, as well as some Democratic lawmakers, are arguing that the better way to hurt Russia is to boost renewable energy production.

KIEVE: Renewable energy stays at home, and it doesn't accelerate climate change and the climate damage out there, so finding a way to accelerate that transition ought to be in all of our best interest.

ROTT: Earlier this week, the United Nations put out a report saying that billions of people are already feeling the effects of climate change worldwide and that governments need to do more to avoid worse damages. Approving fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, which developers have already scrapped, or spurring more lease sales would lock in more greenhouse gas emissions long-term. And energy analysts say it would do little to address the immediate pain Americans are feeling at the gas pump. Jason Bordoff is the founding director of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy.

JASON BORDOFF: That would impact how much oil supply comes to the market years and years into the future. That doesn't affect the fundamentals of supply and demand and prices today.

ROTT: The biggest driver of development for oil and gas projects, he says, is the price of oil.

BORDOFF: And with oil prices going up, we're going to see oil production in the U.S. surge this year, somewhere close to a million barrels a day, regardless of what the Biden administration does or doesn't do.

ROTT: And regardless of the long-term impacts on the world's climate. Nathan Rott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CASTANEA AND RISING APPALACHIA SONG, "SYNCHONICITY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.