Fact-checking 3 claims about the GOP oil bill and White House response

Source: By Maxine Joselow, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we’re thinking about the parallels between the book “The Ministry for the Future” by Kim Stanley Robinson and climate policy today. But first:

Fact-checking three claims about the Republican oil reserve bill and the White House response

The House will vote this week on a Republican bill that would tie releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to more fossil fuel leasing on federal lands.

While the bill is not expected to become law, it is fueling a fierce messaging battle, with GOP lawmakers and the White House trading barbs over gasoline prices and the direction of U.S. energy policy.

The Strategic Production Response Act, which was introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), would bar the Energy Department from tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve unless it develops a plan to increase oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters.

The bill comes after President Biden last spring announced a drawdown of 180 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — the largest-ever release from the reserve — in an effort to lower gas prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) has teed up a vote on the measure this week. But the bill is unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, and Biden has vowed to veto the measure if it does reach his desk.

Here are three claims about the bill and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — and how they stack up to the facts:

The claim: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Monday said Biden’s drawdowns from the reserve helped lower gas prices for American drivers, as the world shunned Russia’s energy supplies over its war in Ukraine, our colleagues John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report.

“Analysts who have looked at this have credited the releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for filling the supply gaps that were resulting from the invasion and the lessening of Russian oil on a global market,” Granholm said in the White House briefing room.

The facts: The Treasury Department estimated this summer that drawdowns from the reserve reduced gas prices by up to 40 cents per gallon.

However, Bob McNally, founder and president of the consulting firm Rapidan Energy Group, said any effect on pump prices has been modest.

“Pump prices are largely driven by global crude oil prices,” McNally said in an email. “SPR releases have at most temporary and small impacts on global crude oil prices. Therefore the SPR is a bad tool for trying to manage pump prices.”

Speaking of gas prices, the national average price per gallon on Monday was $3.42, according to AAA. That’s about 10 cents higher than a year ago, but down from a record high of $5.02 in June.

Boosting fossil fuel production

The claim: On a call with reporters Monday, a Republican aide on the Energy and Commerce Committee said the Strategic Production Response Act — if passed — would spur a meaningful increase in fossil fuel production on federal lands.

“If there were more opportunity to drill for oil and gas … there would be interest from the private sector to produce that oil and gas,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

The facts: More leasing would not necessarily mean more drilling. Out of about 26.6 million acres of public lands under lease to the fossil fuel industry in 2021, nearly 13.9 million acres were not producing any oil, according to Bureau of Land Management data from 2021, the latest year for which figures are available.

“The industry already has a massive stockpile of public lands that they aren’t doing anything with,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, an environmental advocacy group.

The claim: Republicans have accused Biden of misusing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for political purposes, leaving the reserve at its lowest level in decades. In particular, they have pointed to the release of 15 million barrels three weeks before November’s midterm elections, when rising costs were a top concern for voters.

“Our oil reserves do not exist to win midterms,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) saidat the time. “They exist to help this country in an emergency or in the midst of a storm.”

The facts: Republicans are correct in saying the reserve is at a record low. It sat at 372,380 barrels at the end of 2022, the lowest level since 1983.

It’s less clear, however, whether Biden is going against the intent of the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which directs the government to use the reserve “to reduce the impact of disruptions in supplies of petroleum products.”

While Republicans argue the reserve should be saved for emergencies like severe storms, Biden has faced several global “disruptions,” including the war in Ukraine, pandemic-related supply chain constraints and oil production cuts from rival nations.

One thing is clear: This issue will continue to fuel partisan messaging fights in the weeks to come.

Exclusive: White House climate staffer to helm energy firm

After serving in the White House for two years as a special assistant to the president for climate policy, innovation and deployment, Sonia Aggarwal will become the next chief executive of Energy Innovation, an energy and climate policy firm, according to details shared exclusively with The Climate 202.

Aggarwal was a founding director of Energy Innovation nearly a decade ago. She spent eight years building the firm’s policy research, modeling and analysis before joining the Biden administration in January 2021.

At the White House, Aggarwal helped set President Biden’s climate targets and co-chaired the administration’s Climate Innovation Working Group. She will replace Hal Harvey as the chief executive of Energy Innovation in late February, although Harvey will remain at the firm in the role of founder.

“I am thrilled to return home to Energy Innovation, with its sharply aimed work and matchless talent,” Aggarwal said in a statement. “Climate policy is at an inflection point, and we, alongside our partners, must capitalize on this moment — Energy Innovation is my ideal home for this challenge.”

Red states are reaping the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act

Despite voting against — and working to undermine — the Inflation Reduction Act, Republicans are starting to see the benefits of the landmark climate law in their districts, Politico’s Kelsey Tamborrino and Josh Siegel report.

In recent months, companies have announced tens of billions of dollars in clean energy, battery and electric vehicle projects that will benefit from incentives in the law. About two-thirds of these projects are in districts represented by Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill, according to a Politico analysis.

The dynamic has prompted Republicans to tout the jobs and economic benefits coming to their constituents, but not the underlying bill that spurred them. GOP lawmakers insist their positions are not in conflict.

“Just because you vote against a bill doesn’t mean the entire bill is a bad bill,” said Rep. Garret Graves (La.), who was the top Republican on Democrats’Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in the last Congress. “I go out there and advocate for our district to try and get transportation funds, to try and get energy funds. That’s my job. I am not embarrassed about it. I don’t think it’s inconsistent with my vote.”

Biden renominates top Interior, EPA picks

President Biden on Monday renominated several picks for top roles at the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency after their nominations expired at the end of last year.

Biden has tapped Laura Daniel-Davis to be Interior’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management. If confirmed, Daniel-Davis would play a key role in realizing Biden’s ambitious climate and conservation goals, including his target of protecting 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to bring her nomination to the floor before it expired at the end of 2022, instead prioritizing judicial nominees. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has held two confirmation hearings for her and has twice deadlocked on her nomination.

Asked whether Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) would schedule a third confirmation hearing for Daniel-Davis, a committee aide said in an email that “Chairman Manchin will wait until committee assignments have been finalized before moving forward with any nominees.”

The president on Monday also renominated Joseph Goffman to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s air office and David Uhlmann to helm the EPA’s enforcement office. Goffman has been leading the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation on an acting basis since January 2021, but he faces a tough confirmation battle in the narrowly divided Senate because of his previous involvement in writing strict climate rules.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement to The Climate 202 that “Mr. Uhlmann and Mr. Goffman are well-qualified individuals and I plan on doing my dead-level best to get them confirmed.”

Sliding into Tuesday like: