Climate Change, Energy, Environmental Justice, Natural Resources, Public Lands, Sustainability

Revisiting the Clean Energy Act in light of the Ban on Russian Oil

Diana Ybarra

(she/her) Fordham ELR Staffer 2022

On March 8, 2022, President Biden banned the import of Russian oil in light of its invasion in Ukraine.  This action, however, has rippling effects as Americans face rising costs of gas at the pump as oil prices surge.  With this ban comes a great opportunity to push for cleaner, renewable energy.  Yet, there is no indication that Biden will advocate for renewable energy on the level needed to prevent an impending economic and climate catastrophe, especially given the expected increase in domestic oil production due to the ban. Biden, despite past promises of increased American renewable energy infrastructure, merely stated that he hopes that this situation pushes the country closer to renewable energy.  This is unsurprising as this is not the first time the President has made failed promises about climate change policies.

In the fall, the United States participated in the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.  During the conference, which spanned from October 31 to November 13, 2021, world leaders watched presentations on various climate change-related issues, participated in global talks on climate change, and made commitments to reduce carbon emissions and prevent a rise in global temperatures.  During COP26, the United States rejoined the Paris Climate Accords, announced a bill that would provide 555 billion dollars in clean energy tax credits, and announced a not yet specified plan to bring the US to net-zero emissions by 2050.  However, once Biden returned home from the climate conference, he withdrew his freshly made promises and prioritized the fossil fuel industry over the climate. 

For example, only four days after returning from the climate conference in Glasgow, the Biden administration put eighty million acres of open water in the Gulf of Mexico up for auction. The auctioned lot was an area twice the size of Florida.  The Exxon Mobil Corporation led the charge of energy companies, bidding on 1.7 million acres of the auctioned area.  This may come as quite a surprise as when Biden first took office he paused new oil and gas leasing on federal property out of concern for the environment.  This concern is not unfounded as almost a quarter of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to fossil fuel extractions on public land.  With an expected increase in domestic fossil fuel extraction because of Biden’s ban on Russian oil, the percentage of gas emissions attributable to the fossil fuel industry is set to rise. The United States’ need to escalate its transition to renewable energy is more urgent than ever.

 A solution to the United States’ energy transition was proposed last year by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden who introduced the Clean Energy for America Act in the Senate.  The bill would have provided tax incentives for renewable energy production, making the United States’ oil and gas industry less profitable.  A revolutionary step forward for the country to lessen its reliance on fossil fuels and move towards cleaner energy solutions if the bill ever made it out of committee.  In light of the ban on Russian oil and rising prices, the United States needs to revisit the Clean Energy for America Act immediately to create the infrastructure needed for a mass transition to renewable energy.  However, in the meantime, President Biden should consider using executive orders to stimulate renewable energy production.

The United States has the power to mitigate some of the damage from its self-imposed Russian oil ban.  However, President Biden does not seem to recognize his own power over lessening the United States’ carbon footprint.  When finishing his address at the COP26, President Biden said, “God bless you all, and may God save the planet.”  Given the United States’ position as a global power and one of the main contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, the United States needs to rectify its wrongs and commit to making changes to reduce the impact of climate change.  The rising prices of oil and gas due to the Russian oil ban is the incentive we need for Biden and the United States government to create viable renewable energy solutions that can work towards saving the planet.