As the weather turns colder, higher energy prices that consumers have been seeing at the pump are rapidly going to show up on home heating bills. The cost of crude oil, natural gas, and even coal has skyrocketed due to a confluence of factors ranging from U.S. and European energy policies, pandemic-related fluctuations in supply and demand and even low wind production.
In the face of no response to his request that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies (OPEC+) pump more oil, the Biden administration announced it will release millions of barrels of oil from strategic reserves. It’s a good move but inadequate compared to other options Biden declines to pursue, such as asking domestic producers to increase production or issuing new oil and gas leases on federal land. This inaction combined with vigorous finger pointing at energy companies in the form of an FTC investigation into price gouging shows that Biden is merely trying to avoid paying the political cost of presiding over energy inflation by passing the buck to producers.
House Democrats have a complementary strategy: telling energy companies to produce less and trying to intimidate them away from trying to meet domestic and international demand. A recent Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing promised to “expose Big Oil’s disinformation campaign to prevent climate action.” All the committee actually exposed was the senselessness of its jihad against the oil and gas that are the lifeblood of our society.
Committee Chairman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) made no secret of the hearing’s purpose in her opening statement 3Ž4 to create a Capitol Hill spectacle to rival the 1994 hearing at which top tobacco industry executives were pressed into testifying under oath about the health risks of cigarettes. “This was a watershed moment in the public’s understanding of Big Tobacco. I hope that today’s hearing represents a turning point for Big Oil,” Maloney intoned.
To the disappointment of the climate commentariat, there was no turning point or smoking gun, despite Democratic lawmakers best efforts to manufacture one. “Democratic lawmakers’ irritation with the witnesses was palpable as they struggled to get the executives to either make demonstrably false claims about climate science or to admit to their respective companies' past attempts to mislead the public about the matter — or even their current efforts to obstruct action to mitigate climate change,” complained Yahoo! News’ senior climate editor Ben Adler. “Even some of the Democrats’ usually effective questioners were unable to draw blood.”
“Congress outmatched by oil executives at what was meant to be a defining hearing,” said the Intercept’s Lee Fang. “The oil hearing never achieved the emotional heft or politically powerful optics of the 1994 tobacco hearings” despite moments “which might lend themselves to viral sharing on social media.”
Hearing viewers instead heard the CEOs and Republican committee members put on a clinic about the reliance of, and benefits to society from petroleum products. In contrast, Democrats repeatedly discredited themselves and their cause with attempted ‘gotcha’ questions and wild accusations about Big Oil conspiring to defeat emissions cuts policies. The low point of the hearing for Democrats occurred when Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush accused the CEOs of being racists because Big Oil was somehow involved in the manufacture of tear gas.
The overarching and unfortunate irony of the hearing circus was that the Big Oil CEOs were nearly as concerned about the effect of emissions on climate as the Democrat committee members. Big Oil, after all, supports goals of the Paris Climate Accord and even policies such as a carbon tax. Nevertheless, the CEOs were cool, calm and collected, and recognized that, absent new technology, it would be totally disastrous for the world to suddenly stop using oil and gas.
China and India have made it clear that they intend to continue burning as much coal as they see fit for their own economic and societal well-being. The CEO of Abu Dhabi’s state-owned oil company says that the oil industry will invest $600 billion per year between now and 2030 on new oil and gas exploration and production. Compare that sum with the relatively paltry $100 billion per year that rich countries committed to deliver to poor countries for climate starting in 2023.
The reality is that global emissions are not decreasing in the foreseeable future, if ever, and we should be grateful for that. Oil and gas have been instrumental in taking the world from a global pre-industrial population of about 1 billion to the present 7.8 billion with the highest standard of living ever.
House Democrats are doubling down by issuing subpoenas for documents from Big Oil, irrespective of the fact that the companies have already submitted more than 100,000 pages in response to the committee’s initial request. It’s just more rank intimidation of a disfavored industry for political purposes.
If energy companies perceive continued development of crucial fuels as a financial and political liability, they will naturally scale down and reduce risks. After years of political wrangling and games of red light, green light, TC Energy Corporation is left pursuing a $15 billion lawsuit to try to recover costs and damages from the Biden administration’s revocation of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Being hauled before Congress for the false crime of being an industry that one party dislikes is the sort of calculated intimidation that the first amendment is supposed to prevent. And the hearing is merely the beginning. Rep. Ro Khanna, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Environment, has promised to go after social media and public relations firms for the role they purportedly play in propagating falsehoods about climate change.
As energy prices continue to creep up, perhaps Americans will catch on to the game and tell Democrats to stop.