The Biden Administration has announced that the president will be planning a visit to Saudi Arabia in the month of July, where he will likely again call on the OPEC member to pump out more oil. As Americans absorb the economic pain of record prices at the pump, more supply is exactly what consumers need. The administration should focus on unleashing access to America’s abundance of natural resources, which will generate jobs, increase economic growth, and be produced cleaner than dirtier foreign sources.
President Biden’s planned visit seems to be a shift in foreign policy from when, then-candidate Joe Biden, pledged he would make the country a “Pariah” after the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who had produced many articles critical of the Saudi government. What’s more, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the UAE President have reportedly declined to take calls from President Biden, who is asking the two nations to increase oil production.
The planned visit has drawn scrutiny from members of the President’s own party. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said “I understand the degree to which Saudi Arabia controls oil prices. I think that’s a compelling argument to wean ourselves off a reliance on foreign oil and oil more globally, so we don’t have despots and murderers calling the shots.” Schiff is right that an overreliance on foreign oil does not place the U.S. in a position of leadership or negotiation, but his answer to weaning ourselves off reliance on foreign oil is not met with a practical solution. Schiff voted to permanently extend a moratorium on domestic drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico, harming domestic energy security for negligible environmental benefits.
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Global supply and demand are what primarily determine energy prices, restrictive domestic policies have not put the United States in a position of negotiation, but rather a position of begging. Since his first day in office Biden has taken a hard stance against American energy producers, canceling the Keystone XL and placing a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, in order to reach his ambitious clean energy goals. While transitioning to more clean energy generation is a worthwhile goal, the economic impacts of Biden’s war on fossil fuels has ultimately hamstrung his own climate goals. Moreover, inflation is slowing renewable energy investment.
Incidentally, the administration’s policies will likely lead to an increase in emissions in the long-term. A study by the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research estimates in future years that “the location of oil and gas production [will] move into locations requiring more ship transport relative to pipeline transport, leading to rapid growth in emissions from oil and gas transport by ship.” The Keystone XL Pipeline would have helped to lower these emissions caused by imports from abroad. American oil and gas are also far cleaner than fuels produced overseas and in countries with fewer environmental standards.
Simple, commonsense policy reforms can strengthen America’s global standing while ensuring a pathway to cleaner energy production. In the near-term, regulatory reform can make domestically produced oil more competitive. Repealing the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, would be a great first step. More than a century old, the Act requires that a ship traveling between two US ports needs to be U.S. owned, U.S. built, U.S. flagged, and 75% of the crew must be made up of US citizens. This limits the number of vessels that are eligible to make a shipment between two US ports. Not only does this inflate costs for gasoline and other goods, but it has an environmental impact as well. These regulations encourage the use of more truck and train transportation even though shipping may be a more affordable option without the Jones Act. Trains and trucks have much higher carbon emissions when compared to ships. This additionally creates a greater amount of wear and tear on infrastructures like bridges and roads.
Waivers on vessels or between ports could help to bolster shipping and lower costs in the interim. After President Biden sent a letter to oil companies accusing them of profiteering, Exxon Mobil released its own statement noting that the government could be doing more by providing waivers to the Jones Act and making lease sales reliable.
The market is bringing forward cleaner alternatives, but the shift away from oil does not happen overnight. A practical solution to lower emissions while boosting our energy security would be to allow for more drilling permits while simultaneously lifting burdensome regulations on clean energy options like nuclear, hydropower, renewables, and battery technologies.
So, while the President has a vital role to play in international trade relations, this trip to Saudi Arabia should not be viewed as the solution to our policies domestically. The Biden Administration should take a greater focus on where it can reduce barriers for domestic energy producers to bolster our energy security and environmental well-being.
Clark Strawser is a contributor to C3 and Adjunct Professor with the Helm’s School of Government at Liberty University. Follow him on Twitter @ClarkStrawser.