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Ukraine War Overwhelms Biden’s Climate Agenda

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden delivered his strongest endorsement of oil on Thursday, ordering an unprecedented release of emergency U.S. crude in a move that gambled his climate-saving credentials on lowering gasoline prices in an election year.

If the strategy works, Biden may help stave off both a recession and crushing defeats for his party in midterm elections, while drawing the ire of climate activists and potentially derailing his green goals. If it fails — and it very well might — he risks looking like Jimmy Carter, snubbed by oil-rich Mideast nations and powerless to rein in prices at the pump.

It’s a remarkable shift for a president who campaigned on promises to combat climate change, accelerate renewable fuels and block drilling permits on public lands and waters. In the space of a week, he’s instead ordered the emergency release of 180 million barrels of crude from U.S. stockpiles and presided over a plan to boost exports of American natural gas to Europe.

Biden’s aides insist his move to address an acute economic problem — high gasoline prices — doesn’t jeopardize his longer-term renewable energy and climate ambitions, but analysts and climate advocates saw an obvious contradiction.

“President Biden, who campaigned and won on an ambitious climate platform, may be on track to generate a bigger carbon footprint from the combustion of government strategic oil than all previous presidents combined,” said Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners.

The president was careful to cast his move as a bid to relieve consumers, and peppered his remarks with criticism of the domestic petroleum industry, which the White House says hasn’t moved quickly enough to increase production.

Biden implored oil companies to rebuff Wall Street’s demands for record profits and instead fulfill their “obligation” to boost crude production. And he excoriated firms that aren’t increasing output and proposed hitting the industry with penalties for letting federal drilling rights stay idle.

Underscoring the action Thursday is a harsh political reality: Biden can’t achieve his climate ambitions if Democrats lose control of Congress in the November elections or the U.S. is plunged into a deep recession.

Biden’s approach disappointed environmentalists, who blasted him for embracing America’s thirst for cheap gasoline at the expense of the climate fight.

“We are chasing our tail” and Biden’s plan is “a false solution,” said Melinda Pierce, legislative director with the Sierra Club.

“There’s a real tension that the president is obviously trying to navigate: How do you bring about relief to consumers who are aggravated at prices at the pump, and the only way to do that clearly is to turn on the spigot,” Pierce said. “We’ve got to think longer term.”

Some climate activists have urged the White House to instead embrace the current turmoil and tell voters that the world’s continued reliance on fossil fuels enables Vladimir Putin and other petro-state leaders to use oil and gas as a weapon.

“The solution must be a wartime mobilization to transform our energy system, not doubling down on a volatile fossil-fueled system driving the climate crisis, worsening conflict and boosting economic inequality,” said Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International. “Biden must commit to massive, transformative investments in public transit, electric vehicles, and clean energy to make these technologies accessible to everyone.”

The administration is under pressure to follow up the oil and gas moves with plans to boost efficiency and build a more resilient, cleaner energy system.

“If this is all we do, then shame on us,” said Ladislaw, with the nonprofit RMI. “If only managing oil and gas market uncertainty for a period of time is how we respond to this, then I guarantee you we will be here again and we will have missed a very big opportunity to build a more resilient world.”