Dec 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats try to flip the script on energy prices

Illustration of a close up of hands pinching a very tiny bill.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Biden administration and allied climate activists are hoping to transform today's relatively high energy costs from a political risk into an asset as they push for passage of sweeping climate legislation.

Driving the news: Axios got the first look at a new ad buy premiering in the D.C. media market today from the group Evergreen Action.

"Want lower energy bills? Congress must pass the Build Back Better Act, a bill which invests in affordable, American-made clean energy," the ad states.

  • It claims, citing the think tank RMI, that the measures, which include billions in tax and other incentives for renewables, would save power companies and consumers billions of dollars annually by 2030.
  • It's part of a six-figure buy that will include video, display and search ads targeted at policymakers.

Catch up fast: It's the latest attempt by Democrats to win huge new investments for renewable power, electric vehicles and other clean energy on a party-line vote.

  • On Dec. 11, Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, noted on Twitter that the latest Consumer Price Index showed energy prices account for one-third of higher costs facing working-class families.
  • She pointed to the legislation's energy efficiency measures and policies that would result in aggressive deployment of renewable sources, in particular, as ways to "help ease energy price increases in the future."
  • Cabinet members, including Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, have also noted that spending money on renewable resources, such as offshore wind, will yield cheaper electricity for consumers.

Yes, but: Republican lawmakers and energy industry groups argue that provisions in the House-passed version of the bill would raise energy costs by making it more expensive to produce and use fossil fuels.

  • In addition, the recent energy supply crunch that has hit Europe especially hard demonstrates that the transition to clean energy sources may be turbulent and could result in higher costs to consumers at times.

Threat level: Democrats also say that by cutting emissions, the bill would reduce the toll from extreme weather events.

  • Collin O'Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, told reporters yesterday that the cost of inaction "isn't getting enough attention," pointing to extreme weather costs in lives and economic damages.

Context: The ad buy and Democratic pushback on the energy price effects of Build Back Better come after the White House has been on the defensive for months over energy prices, particularly gasoline.

  • The Biden administration is undertaking the largest-ever release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in order to try to bolster global supplies and reduce prices.
  • In a Tuesday blog post, the White House touted falling prices at the pump, a trend helped by global market conditions and COVID-related developments.
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