Some senators’ Rx for inflation: More fossil fuels

By: - November 16, 2021 3:30 pm

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Days after global leaders agreed for the first time to decrease coal usage and subsidies for fossil fuels, U.S. senators battled over rising gasoline prices and urged action on the high cost of energy—including by increasing production of coal, oil and gas.

The Tuesday hearing, led by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.), showed the difficulty President Joe Biden and more liberal congressional Democrats will have in enacting climate policies to meet the goals of the international community.

That includes those agreed to in Glasgow, Scotland, during a climate conference earlier this month.

Manchin, who is considered the most conservative Senate Democrat and has strong ties to West Virginia’s coal industry, opened the hearing by saying he wanted to achieve energy reliability and affordability, while “also achieving our decarbonization goals.”

He later questioned if mandates to limit production of fossil fuels would lead to carbon reductions. He said he instead favors advances in technology like carbon sequestration, the process of capturing and storing carbon.

“You cannot eliminate your way to a cleaner climate,” Manchin said. “We have got to innovate.”

Republicans on the committee sought to blame the Biden administration for inflation that has included rising gasoline prices.

“What Joe Biden did in Glasgow was beg OPEC plus Russia to sell more energy and produce more oil for the United States to buy,” said ranking Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming. “This is going to bring Europe’s energy prices to the United States.”

Stephen Nalley, the acting administrator for the U.S. Energy Information Administration, said the price increases were a result of an economic recovery after a pandemic-caused downturn. Demand for energy rebounded before production, Nalley said.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, said Biden was being unfairly blamed for energy prices. Economic fundamentals and the uneven recovery that Nalley cited were reasonable explanations.

“There’s one law that this Congress can’t repeal: the law of supply and demand,” King said.

Nalley said he expected prices to remain consistent through the winter before a possible drop next year.

At the close of the U.N. conference Saturday, nearly 200 countries agreed to a document that includes a pledge to “phase-down unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.”

That language was weakened from an earlier draft that used “phase-out” instead of “phase-down,” but it still represented the first mention of fossil fuel subsidies or coal in an international agreement, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry said at a Saturday news conference.

But the agreement is nonbinding, and reaching its goals—and those of other international climate agreements like the Paris Accords that set a target to hold average warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—depend on each nation taking  individual actions.

The focus at Tuesday’s Senate panel showed there will continue to be political obstacles to enacting climate policies in the U.S.

While Kerry in Glasgow predicted the end of coal production by 2030, Nalley said his agency projected coal would be at about 75 percent of current levels in 2050.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.