Biden’s fossil-fuel enmity backs him into a corner

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NEW YORK, Feb 25 (Reuters Breakingviews) - Joe Biden’s climate stance is turning counterproductive. The U.S. president’s policies have made him few friends in the oil patch, but as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine creates gaps in the energy market, American drillers could provide much-needed help.

Biden has been fighting a battle against U.S. oil producers since he entered the Oval Office last January. He immediately revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would have carried 830,000 barrels of crude per day from Canada to the United States. Days later, he signed an executive order that paused new drilling leases on federal land, a decision that was later overturned in court. He asked the Federal Trade Commission to look for anti-consumer behavior in the industry. So onerous are regulations on power plant emissions that even California has asked for temporary exceptions.

Despite surging oil prices, the U.S. fossil-fuel industry is not rapidly ramping up supply. Companies are under pressure from investors to remain prudent with every $1 they spend. Oil production is still lower than before the pandemic started. Meantime Biden has insisted that he will do everything he can to keep prices low at the pump.

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Being friendlier to the fossil fuel industry – while it would look like a climbdown – could actually help. For one, U.S. drillers could help fill shortages elsewhere in the world. Already the United States supplied more than half of all liquefied natural gas imports to Europe in January, a jump read more from 26% in 2021, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Biden continues to build fences round federal drilling, but breaking from those policies could help flood the market with more oil. Less regulation means lower costs and higher profit for drillers, which incentivizes more supply. Even shaking hands with executives would send a psychological signal that the administration is more open to business.

Climate is a ballot-box issue, but Biden has others to contend with. Reuters’ most recent poll with Ipsos shows he has the approval of just 43% of Americans. Rising inflation and high gas prices will only hurt him politically. Anything else backs him further into a corner.

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(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

CONTEXT NEWS

- U.S. President Joe Biden said on Feb. 24 that his administration was using every tool at its disposal to protect Americans from rising prices at the gas pump. Speaking at a press conference, he cautioned that American oil and gas companies “should not exploit this moment to hike their prices to raise profits.”

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Editing by John Foley and Sharon Lam

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