Biden’s Assault on Fossil Fuels Jeopardizes America’s Military Strength
The calendar guiding the first 100 days of the Biden administration will have no white space. It will be full of existential and immediate challenges…beat Coronavirus, evaluate and bolster our preparedness against future biothreats, get millions of Americans back to work, counter the fast-growing and asymmetric national security threats from China, Russia and other nations with whom we have less in common, engage and expand with global partners, exert America’s influence —the incoming administration will need to leverage every policy tool and diplomatic advantage to be successful.
One of the key arrows President-elect Biden will have in his quiver is America’s growing domestic energy security. Over the past decade, the U.S. oil and gas industry transformed our country’s energy outlook—from dependence on foreign suppliers to becoming a supplier ourselves. In fact, last year the U.S. became a net-energy exporter for the first time in nearly 70 years.
That independence is not only good for American consumers, who benefit from access to affordable and reliable fuels – it is also critical to our national security interests. U.S. warplanes and battleships run on petroleum. Supply chains at home and abroad are carbon-powered. Modern defense technologies, like carbon-fiber vehicles, Kevlar body armor, even sophisticated computer chips, are made with products derived from fossil fuels. Carbon neutrality is aspirational but unattainable.
The U.S. military is one of the world’s largest consumers of petroleum products. If it were a country, it would be the 47th largest consumer of fossil fuels. No one would disagree that we should work toward reducing that footprint, and our Armed Forces are making great strides to transition to alternative fuel sources. However, we cannot magically throw a switch to run our tanks and jets on solar and wind, at least not while maintaining strategic flexibility and ensuring military dominance which remains an unimpeachable imperative.
Likewise, we cannot cut off our wells at home without compromising our allies abroad. Energy exports have helped stabilize global markets and provided the room to refocus military capabilities away from oil fields in the Middle East to the growing omnipresence of China’s influence. The title of world’s largest oil and natural gas producer has weakened the grip of oil-rich tormentors like Russia and diminished OPEC’s, the global oil cartel, control of energy prices.
Those realities should be hard for the new administration to overlook. As Vice President, Biden oversaw the largest growth of American shale energy development. From 2008 to 2016, U.S. natural gas production increased 35% and crude oil production jumped 80%.
“We are actually drilling on more public lands than the previous administration,” President Obama said in a 2012 presidential debate. “And natural gas isn't just appearing magically. We're encouraging it and working with the industry.” In his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama touted natural gas as a “bridge fuel” that is producing cleaner power.
The Biden team would tie the hands of his administration by seeking to rollback domestic shale production—as he pledged to do on the campaign trail. Cracking down on development would not only risk military readiness but also would impede Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda.
The oil and gas industry supports nearly 10 million American jobs. As millions of hard-working men and women remain out of work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden White House should work with oil and gas producers—one of our country’s strongest growth sectors—to support economy-wide recovery, not punish them. Biden’s advisors must see the logic of fixing the near challenge, unemployment, while simultaneously enabling our economy to realize the existential requirement to maximize alternative sources of energy. We must do both.
Rightfully, the incoming Biden administration has made climate change a top priority. Sadly, he seems to have adopted the false premise that assigns blame squarely to fossil fuels. It should not be an either-or decision between traditional and alternative energy sources.
Domestic shale production is helping bridge the gap to renewable fuels. From 2008 to 2018, solar and wind-powered electricity generation doubled. Over the past 15 years the share of non-hydro renewable energies has increased six-fold. Over the past ten years carbon emissions have been cut by 800 million tons—the largest reduction “in the history of energy.”
President Biden will face immense challenges on January 20, 2021. To achieve his policy objectives, he will need to lean on every advantage the U.S. has. Rather than penalizing American shale producers, his administration should work with them to advance our interests. To walk back the hard-won progress of the past decade would undermine our interests, at home and abroad, and leave our nation vulnerable.
James “Spider” Marks is a retired U.S. Army major general and strategic advisor to the GAIN Coalition — Grow America’s Infrastructure Now.