After arm-twisting the Biden administration to cut in half the already halved $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill, Sen. Joe Manchin spent six months almost singlehandedly destroying every actual and potential iteration of the proposal. Now he sees Vlad Putin’s war to put Ukraine under the Kremlin’s thumb as a path to greatly expanding U.S. production of fossil fuels amid a rising likelihood of a congressional cut-off of imports of Russian oil, gas, and coal.
If this call for ramping up production could be labeled “myopic,” it wouldn’t be so infuriatingly disheartening. People can be talked out of myopia. But that doesn’t apply to Manchin. It’s been clear for quite some time that his supposed support for action to aggressively address the climate crisis isn’t myopic, it’s a deceptive pose. At least most of the Republicans who also take this stance don’t pretend.
Legislation for an import ban was introduced in the Senate Thursday with bipartisan support, Manchin being one of 16 co-sponsors. Although the amount fluctuates widely from year to year, the U.S. imported 675,000 barrels of Russian oil and oil equivalents per day in 2021.
To make up the gap from a ban, Manchin is reiterating his call for an “all of the above” U.S. energy policy. In other words, he wants to use a ban on imports of Russian oil that now make up about 3% of U.S. imports to boost not just more domestic oil production from existing operations, but pushing more drilling leases, pipelines, and liquified natural gas facilities at U.S. ports.
There’s a key difference between an import ban and boosted production. if passed, the “Ban Russian Energy Imports Act” would almost certainly be temporary. The proposed legislation specifically calls for the ban to remain in place only as long as Russian aggression in Ukraine remains a threat to U.S. national security, as defined by the National Emergencies Act of 1975. On the other hand, all that new fossil infrastructure and all those new leases on public land that Manchin wants will have life spans of decades.
Despite growing support for a ban—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday “I am all for that, ban it”—the Biden administration opposes it, arguing that this would disrupt world supplies of fossil fuels. No doubt. Certainly this would be true if all nations banned such imports. It would deepen the economic impacts sanctions are causing in Russia. Disruption was on sanction experts’ minds before the invasion got rolling. But China already imports 950,000 barrels of oil a day from Russia under a 25-year contract. Given the relationship between President Xi and Putin, plus the growing, uh, let’s call it rivalry between the U.S. and China, it’s not hard to imagine Beijing picking up all or a big portion of what the United States bans.
However, the campaign of employing terror tactics against Ukrainian civilians calls up images of Putin’s bloodthirsty assault on the city of Grozny in 1999, where tens of thousands of civilians were killed in a slaughter in which he said Russian troops "fulfilled their task to the end." That must be confronted and few Americans or Europeans are eager to use their militaries to accomplish that, at least not directly. If a ban has even a small chance of stopping a repeat of that atrocity, how can it be opposed? But, as righteous as it obviously would be, does anyone really think that a ban will force Putin to retreat?
Nothing is righteous about Manchin’s obsolete “all of the above” approach on energy, and it needs to be deep-sixed.
President Jimmy Carter also adopted an “all of the above” energy strategy. Many environmental advocates and climate hawks point to Carter’s support for renewable energy in the late 1970s. His final budget included more money for renewables research and development than any administration until President Barack Obama made his first budget proposal in 2009. However, far more money was allocated under Carter for “clean coal” and synthetic fuels than for solar and wind. This included giant subsidies for developing oil shale, which, thankfully, never produced a nickel’s worth of commercial petroleum. Carter’s policy emerged in the wake of two OPEC oil embargoes that drove policy aimed at U.S. energy independence. Even proposals like using America’s vast coal reserves to spark a resurrection of steam locomotives were put forth at the time. That proposal thankfully came to naught.
Under Obama’s stimulus act of 2009, $90 billion was allocated to clean energy, public transit, and training for green jobs. But Obama’s policy was also premised on “all of the above.” And although he ultimately came around to blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, he touted the fact that U.S. oil and gas production had soared during his administration.
In response to the release of the latest grim U.N. climate report this week, Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction—now. This abdication of leadership is criminal.” He also said “delay is death.” This isn’t hyperbole. Burning fossil fuels is literally killing tens of thousands of people every year. The climate crisis being fueled by coal, oil, and gas—something that congressional legislation ought to have years ago tagged as a national emergency—will almost certainly kill millions even if we do take aggressive action immediately. Delay is death, and “all of the above” is delay.
Even as he again asserted (with conditions) that he will support much of the $550 billion in climate-related provisions that were in the destroyed BBB Act, Manchin is still behaving as if it’s 1977 and U.S. energy independence based on fossil fuels makes geopolitical sense because nobody was then thinking about global warming except a handful of scientists, including those at Exxon who were on the cusp of pumping millions of dollars into four decades of climate science denial.
With oil now trading in the $115-a-barrel range, increased production is most assuredly coming without any government-provided boost. So exactly what is the point of relaxing environmental regulations and encouraging investment in long-lived infrastructure that accelerates extraction, transportation, and burning fossil fuels? Other, that is, than fattening some wallets, like the senator’s.
The U.N.’s Sixth Assessment of the Climate Report released this week has 3,675 pages devoted to why continuing on the path we’re on with “all of the above” is a guarantee for disaster. Some relevant information from the report condensed by Carbon Brief:
- Climate change has already caused “substantial damages and increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems”.
- It is likely that the proportion of all terrestrial and freshwater species “at very high risk of extinction will reach 9% (maximum 14%) at 1.5C”. This rises to 10% (18%) at 2C and 12% (29%) at 3C.
- Approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people “live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change”.
- Where climate change impacts intersect with areas of high vulnerability, it is “contributing to humanitarian crises” and “increasingly driving displacement in all regions, with small island states disproportionately affected”.
- Increasing weather and climate extreme events “have exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity and reduced water security”, with the most significant impacts seen in parts of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, small islands and the Arctic.
- Approximately 50-75% of the global population could be exposed to periods of “life-threatening climatic conditions” due to extreme heat and humidity by 2100.
- Climate change “will increasingly put pressure on food production and access, especially in vulnerable regions, undermining food security and nutrition”.
- Climate change and extreme weather events “will significantly increase ill health and premature deaths from the near- to long-term”.
Additionally, IPCC estimates that by the year 2100, 50% of the human population may be exposed to periods of life-threatening climatic conditions from extreme heat and humidity, even in a low greenhouse gas emissions scenario.
Also: Another 1.5°C of warming could mean 350 million urban dwellers will be added to those already facing a scarcity of water from drought; 420 million hectares of forest have been lost across the planet from 1990 to 2020, the size of U.S. and Indonesian forests combined; 44% of major insect pest species are forecast to increase the damage they cause to forests as the climate warms; and 99% of of the world’s coral is estimated to be lost from a temperature rise of 2°C.
An “all of the above” strategy should be cursed right now for the nightmare fantasy that it is rather than leaving that up to the next generation afflicted with its deepening consequences.
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The writers in Climate Brief work to keep the Daily Kos community informed and engaged with breaking news about the climate crisis around the world while providing inspiring stories of environmental heroes, opportunities for direct engagement, and perspectives on the intersection of climate activism with spirituality, politics, and the arts.