Mar 8, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Biden administration walks tightrope over gas prices

An illustration of a man tightrope walking on electrical wires.

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The Biden administration is walking a tightrope when it comes to addressing the climbing price of gas in ways that square with the administration’s climate policies.

Driving the news: The White House is caught between the need to address the high price of gas, which Tuesday hit a national record, and its ambitious climate agenda.

  • For the short term, this is leading the administration to engage governments it had shunned, such as Venezuela, or criticized, like Saudi Arabia, to secure additional supplies.
  • At the same time, top officials are adamant their policies are not impeding the domestic production of oil and gas, but that the clean energy transition is the only way to truly become energy independent in the long run.

Why it matters: Whether the public blames the Biden administration's energy policies for the high price of gas could have steep political costs for Democrats.

Zoom in: The energy industry has been emphasizing the need for policy changes in order to increase the amount of oil and gas drilling at home.

  • This is a position the White House, and its environmental allies reject, noting that oil production has already increased under Biden and is projected to hit a record high in 2023.
  • But to a typical customer filling up their SUV at a gas station, incredulous at the cost, it may make intuitive sense that policies like canceling the Keystone Pipeline, a move Biden took early in his presidency, is a culprit.
  • White House officials have taken to Twitter to defend Biden’s energy agenda and the need for a clean transition.
  • "The suggestion that we are not allowing companies to drill is inaccurate," press secretary Jen Psaki said during Monday's press briefing. "The suggestion that that is what is hindering or preventing gas prices to come down is inaccurate."

Between the lines: Nikos Tsafos, an energy and climate specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Axios the White House and Republicans are locked in a political argument when they should be focused on squaring off against Russia.

  • “I think we're tying ourselves in a knot with the talking points,” Tsafos said. “You know, I don't understand why it's so difficult for the White House to say, we need more U.S. oil produced right now.”
  • This would still be consistent with its climate agenda, he told Axios.
Total imports of crude oil and oil products. Data: IEA; Table: Will Chase/Axios

This chart from the International Energy Agency shows the top 15 countries in Europe in terms of their share of combined crude oil and petroleum products from Russia.

  • Heavy demand for those barrels helps explain the reluctance to cut off or directly sanction Russian oil, though the response to the crisis is already crimping supplies.
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