Perspective: Ignore the rhetoric. These are the facts about America’s energy needs

Benji Backer - March 10, 2022
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Perspective: Ignore the rhetoric. These are the facts about America’s energy needs
BMW i8 plug-in hybrid vehicle outside the Utah Capitol during Clean Energy Business Day | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Energy prices are skyrocketing, and the Ukrainian crisis is growing more devastating every day. Americans are struggling to afford the prices at the pump and are looking to President Joe Biden for answers. To make matters more complicated, for the significant majority of Americans worried about climate change, we’re wondering how we should handle these crises while protecting the planet.

At times it seems as if we have two vastly different choices: dramatically increase fossil fuel production in order to become energy independent, or dramatically decrease it in favor of green energy. To some, it seems impossible to reconcile these opposite views. But it can be done if we focus on facts instead of rhetoric. Here’s what’s important.

According to the Biden administration, the U.S. is unlikely to decrease fossil fuel consumption between now and 2050. Developing countries, like China and India, are expected to dramatically increase their fossil fuel usage. While technology and policy changes will likely change this forecast, there’s no doubt that oil and gas will play a role for decades to come. And with 84% of the world’s energy coming from fossil fuels in 2019, there’s a significant need for fossil fuels to continue powering people’s lives — at least for the foreseeable future.

Environmentally, the facts are even more complicated. Fossil fuel production in countries like Russia have dramatically higher environmental impacts than production in the United States. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy recently said that Russian natural gas is up to 22% dirtier than European coal. As such, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm called Russia’s natural gas “the dirtiest on Earth” last year.

Biden and administration officials, however, continue to maintain that we should simply “transform our economy” by phasing out fossil fuels virtually overnight and replacing regular vehicles with electric vehicles. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg even suggested that Americans struggling with high gas prices should simply buy an electric car. Instead of looking at increasing our production of domestic fossil fuels, with global demand at an all-time high, we’re allowing countries like Russia to continue hamstringing Americans and other nations that we could supply.

While we definitely should continue to work toward clean energy technology in the U.S. and abroad, how should the U.S. deal with fossil fuel production going forward?

Again, let’s turn to the facts.

We cannot wish away the reality of fossil fuels playing a role for the foreseeable future. And instead of allowing tyrannical countries with far lower environmental standards — countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran — to dominate global fossil fuel production, the United States should continue to produce cleaner fossil fuels here at home. This will simultaneously decrease energy costs and increase environmental protection.

Next, we need to unlock more opportunities for clean energy technologies to emerge. Whether it’s solar, wind, nuclear power, electric vehicles, carbon capture or other similar projects, we need to continue prioritizing U.S.-based development and implementation.

While some still insist that “drill, baby, drill” should be America’s energy policy, it’s important to acknowledge we’re already losing the clean energy race to another tyrannical government: the Chinese Communist Party.

With a significant stranglehold of the global clean-energy economy, China could easily stop supplying our electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines overnight, potentially putting us in a worse economic predicament than we are now in. We shouldn’t rely on Russia for fossil fuels, and we must not cede the clean-energy economy to China either.

Ultimately, what the past few weeks have proven is that our approach to energy in the U.S. must be rooted in the improvisational comedy technique of saying “yes, and” instead of picking sides.

Simply put: we still need fossil fuels in 2022, but we also should be working toward the necessary transition to clean sources. We can, and should, do both.

Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition.