Democrats Must Preserve an 'All-of-the-Above' Energy Strategy
Energy and climate policy debates within the Democratic Party have put pressure on presidential nominee and former vice president Joe Biden to make clear what voters can expect from his administration if he wins the presidency. Biden has struggled to maintain a moderate stance on the issues, openly advocating for fracking bans on federal lands and policies outlined in the Green New Deal, policies which don’t comply with swing states like Pennsylvania, where the natural gas industry contributes more than $24 billion to the state’s economy and supports nearly 180,000 jobs. Weeks out from election night the Biden campaign is struggling to articulate a stance that is both unifying and viable.
Moreover, the Biden energy platform – described as a “plan to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future,” whatever that means – has moved left of President Obama’s “All-of the-Above” strategy. Instead, Biden proposes a $2 trillion public spending project that is short on details, heavy on taxpayer spending, and reverses the progress of the last decade.
To buoy his election chances and improve the well-being of Americans, the Biden camp must take notes from the way Obama articulated his vision of American energy: a balance between progress and practicality and arguing, “We need an energy strategy for the future – an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.” By all measures, the policies Obama implemented in pursuit of that vision, and no doubt Vice-President Biden supported at the time, were successful, especially the rapid expansion of domestic natural gas production and utilization.
The growth of the U.S. natural gas industry under the Obama administration lowered household energy costs, created jobs, contributed to a major reduction in emissions, and played a significant role in accelerating the country’s recovery from the 2008 Financial Crisis. This was, and has remained under President Trump’s leadership, the right path for Americans.
Under President Trump American energy continued to make gains in energy sufficiency and production, as well as emissions reductions to the benefit of the American economy. This includes the largest absolute reduction in emissions by any country since 2000; adding tens of thousands of jobs thanks to large scale energy infrastructure projects like Keystone XL and Dakota Access; and an expectation to be a net energy exporter by the close of 2020.
Green New Deal supporters, obviously Biden supporters as well, may conveniently have forgotten the Obama Administration’s rosy embrace of natural gas, which he encouraged Americans to welcome and called an “ideal energy source that we potentially could use for the next 100 years” in 2012. The successful and simultaneous reduction of emissions, energy imports, and unemployment is an accomplishment that the Democratic Party should be eager to capture themselves, especially given the increased momentum the Trump Administration has created since inhabiting the White House.
Despite these improvements the progressive wing contends that the environmental gains associated with the increase of natural gas usage is not sufficient to warrant its continued production. That stance lacks grounding in reality. In 2019, natural gas accounted for 38% of U.S. total electricity generation. All renewable energy sources combined generated only 17%, and at greater cost per unit of energy. It will be decades before wind, solar, and hydroelectric sources will be able to fully replace natural gas, which is comparatively cleaner than alternatives like coal. Proposals to ban fracking or otherwise restrict domestic energy production would only force the U.S. to rely on imported fossil fuels subject to far less regulation and oversight, an environmentally and economically counterproductive outcome, or depend on the more expensive renewable sources which provide nowhere close to our current energy requirements.
Crippling existing producers through the range of proposals in Biden’s proposed energy policies would cost jobs, limit growth, and damage the wellbeing of millions of Americans struggling from COVID-induced financial vulnerability. As such, it is important we continue to invest in infrastructure that safely and efficiently transports the energy resources that millions of American consumers rely on each day – particularly in natural gas-rich regions that currently face pipeline constraints like Texas’ Permian Basin and the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania. But with an anti-energy contingency only growing amongst the far-Left, developing critical energy infrastructure has become a painfully litigious, uncertain, and bureaucratic process that seemingly offers little incentive for developers and investors.
There are real consequences to this activism, too. A recent report from the Consumer Energy Alliance found that delays, obstruction, and cancellation of pipeline projects are threatening nearly $14 billion in economic activity, over 66,000 jobs, and more than $280 million a year in state and local tax revenue – crucial investment and employment that could go a long way in our nation’s long road to a COVID-19 recovery.
Win or lose come November, Joe Biden and other Democratic Party leadership would do well to reembrace Obama-era energy policies, brought to reality under President Trump’s leadership, that prioritize growth and employment without inhibiting the development of the energy sources of tomorrow. A strong embrace of an all-of-the-above approach could reshape the debate on energy and curtail the unrealistic policies now championed by the left. Perhaps some draft language for the campaign reads: the continued development of safe and responsible natural gas production and accompanying infrastructure is not just compatible with, but a precondition of, a resilient economy and a cleaner future. Surely on that we can all agree.
Tom Magness is a strategic adviser to Grow America's Infrastructure Now, and formerly served as a commander in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.