In November, amid soaring energy prices and with winter on the horizon, the outlook for American consumers was bleak. The Biden administration chose not to sugarcoat it. The Energy Information Administration forecast that consumers would see year-over-year price hikes for propane, natural gas, and electricity by as much as 50 percent. “It will be more expensive this year than last year,” Energy Sec. Jennifer Granholm warned.
What could the Biden administration do about it? Not much, Granholm insisted. The conditions that had led to higher energy prices were out of the president’s hands. At best, relief would come when investments in clean energy mature and the nation could “get off the volatility associated with fossil fuels.” In an interview with Bloomberg later that month, Granholm laughed off the suggestion that the Biden administration could reduce some of the pressure on energy supplies by producing “a plan to increase oil production” domestically. “That is hilarious,” Granholm scoffed. “Would that I had the magic wand on this.” She explained that the global oil market’s prices are set by foreign producers, all of whom had declined to increase production. The idea that the White House could intervene in that process was a fantasy.
It’s unclear who Granholm was trying to convince with that display of contemptuous flippancy, but she’s since dropped the act. At a meeting with the National Petroleum Council last week, the head of the Biden administration’s energy department did the impossible: She asked America’s domestic energy producers to ramp up oil and gas production. Indeed, Granholm had the audacity to blame the industry for contributing to the unhappy status quo by failing to utilize approved permits and leases, hire enough workers, and increase the number of rigs in operation. “While I understand you may disagree with some of our policies,” Granholm said, “it doesn’t mean the Biden administration is standing in the way of your efforts to help meet current demand.”
Once again, the audience for this sort of message is unclear. It certainly wasn’t in the room at the National Petroleum Council, the members of which are probably intimately acquainted with the administration’s deliberate efforts to curtail domestic energy production. Among Joe Biden’s first acts in the White House were executive orders imposing a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal lands, the suspension of oil drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and a directive preventing the administration’s executive agencies from spending taxpayer dollars in ways that could subsidize the fossil fuel industry. Biden’s anti-pipeline policies have led developers to abandon transit corridors—that is, when pipelines aren’t being summarily canceled by this administration, which was the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline. The White House has also routinely floated punitive tax hikes targeting energy producers, which have contributed to a chilly investment climate around the capital-intensive, long-term development of new oil and natural gas deposits.
In its first year, the Biden administration operated under the assumption that it could mollify the climate activists within the Democratic collation with policies that would make energy more expensive and, thus, justify what Press Sec. Jen Psaki admitted was the White House’s “focus on clean energy options.” At the same time, however, they seemed to think that policies designed to produce scarcity and the associated price hikes would be quietly absorbed by the general public. Both of these assumptions were unfounded. Restive climate activists on Joe Biden’s left flank are not satisfied by what they regard as half measures, and the popular backlash against the rising cost of living has become an existential threat to the Democratic Party’s political prospects.
Needless to say, this is not a coherent energy policy. It’s improvisatory theater designed to satisfy whatever political constituency the administration happens to be addressing in the moment. Granholm’s frivolity may titillate the handful of Americans for whom the workings of government is a source of entertainment, but all the saucy impudence in the world can’t paper over abject incompetence.