White House & Energy: Gaslighting

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 7, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A Huffington Post headline from last night crows: “Jen Psaki Schools Fox News’ Peter Doocy With Facts: ‘I Know That Can Be Inconvenient.’ Doocy, the Post reported, had “trie[d] to blame rising gas prices on the Biden administration rather than Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.” But thankfully, “no-nonsense White House press secretary Jen Psaki” schooled him, using “‘facts’ to shoot down” the reporter’s “hectoring questions.” As the Huffington Post tells it, Doocy was simply no match for Psaki’s awesome power.

In response to Doocy’s dismissing “the widely held position that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered the recent leap in costs,” as the Huffington Post put it, Psaki maintained that “there’s no question that, as we have seen — and outside analysts have conveyed this as well — the increase and the continued increase . . . is a direct result of the invasion of Ukraine.” Doocy responded by asking why the White House was “asking other countries to think about maybe pumping more oil — why not just do it here?” To that, Psaki replied: “Well, just to be very clear, federal policies are not limiting the supplies of oil and gas.” When Doocy subsequently interjected by citing numerous examples in which the Biden administration had, in fact, limited oil and gas, Psaki fired back that she was going to “give you the facts here, and I know that can be inconvenient, but I think they’re important in this moment.”

No facts followed. What did follow, however, was the White House’s new line on skyrocketing gas prices: “The suggestion that we are not allowing companies to drill is inaccurate,” Psaki said. “The suggestion that that is what is hindering or preventing gas prices to come down is inaccurate.” That was echoed by the president himself at a press conference today: “Let me be clear,” Biden said. “It’s simply not true that my administration or policies are holding back domestic energy production. That’s simply not true.”

There’s just one small problem: It is, in fact, true. “Interior has been slow-rolling oil and gas permits since Mr. Biden took office,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote last week. Citing “mounting evidence of anti-consumer behavior by oil-and-gas companies,” the White House told the Federal Trade Commission to “bring all of the Commission’s tools to bear if you uncover any wrongdoing” in November 2021. Biden’s flurry of executive orders during his first months in office included killing the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Canada to the U.S., and halting new oil and natural-gas drilling on public lands and waters. Last month, the administration indefinitely halted all new drilling permits altogether. 

The effect of all that has been exactly what you’d expect — American energy costs have been steadily climbing. This was already evident last December, as Deroy Murdock noted in the New York Post:

In October [2021], US oil drilling had plunged 38 percent versus October 2019, before COVID-19 derailed the booming Trump-GOP economy. With supply down and demand up (as COVID-related instability has eased), regular unleaded gasoline retailed on Oct. 25 for $3.38 per gallon compared with $2.59 on Oct. 28, 2019 — up 30.5 percent. On those dates, the New York Mercantile Exchange’s price for West Texas Intermediate crude was $83.94 per barrel, versus $56.65 — up 48.2 percent. Likewise, natural-gas drilling had slid 28.9 percent while prices were $5.90 per million BTUs vs. $2.45 — up 140.8 percent.

Now, I’m on the record as being a green. I actually do think climate change is a serious issue that we will have to contend with in my lifetime, and I think American leadership on clean-energy innovation and manufacturing is in the national interest. We used to lead the world on green technology: From the 1950s through the 1980s, for example, the U.S. controlled more than 90 percent of the solar market. But by the mid-2000s, we were producing a mere 9 percent of solar panels worldwide, having outsourced production of any number of clean-energy technologies to China. In the National Interest, Thomas Hochman (full disclosure: my younger brother) argues that, as the global economy becomes more organized around clean energy — and less dependent on fossil fuels — the United States would benefit from positioning itself as a leader in both green innovation and production. Particularly when it comes to energy, economic competition does not exist within a vacuum, and countries often leverage their natural resources as a foreign policy tool,” Hochman writes. “Energy security and independence are not abstract concerns; they have material consequences for American security and prosperity in both the short and the long term.”

With that being said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. The wrong way would be to, say, halt Keystone XL — which does literally nothing to reduce carbon emissions, as I’ve written before — and then to gaslight the American people by blaming the Kremlin. The wrong way would be to shut down nuclear plants — the most viable source of clean energy available — in a fit of self-destructive mania, as Germany is in the process of doing.

There are a number of viable right ways to renew American leadership on clean energy and green technology. Unfortunately, the Biden administration doesn’t seem interested in any of them. Instead, it is catering to the eco-activist wing of the Democratic Party — and pinning its policy failures on a war that kicked off many months after American gas prices actually started to climb. That’s a shame.