Joe Biden committed the gaffe of telling the truth about his climate policies Thursday night when he said he wants to “transition” the U.S. from fossil fuels. The Democratic nominee is admitting that he plans to regulate the oil and gas business out of existence, and Americans soon to be “transitioned” may want to pay attention.
“Would you close down the oil industry?” asked President Trump during the debate.
Mr. Biden: “By the way, I would transition from the oil industry, yes.”
Mr. Trump: “Oh, that’s a big statement.”
Mr. Biden: “I will transition. It is a big statement. Because I would stop.”
Moderator Kristen Welker: “Why would you do that?”
Mr. Biden: “Because the oil industry pollutes, significantly.”
The Biden campaign knew their man made a political mistake because after the debate he tried to backtrack by saying he had merely meant that he’d eliminate subsidies for oil and gas. He also insisted he won’t ban shale drilling, known as fracking, though in the primaries he had said he would.
But Mr. Biden was telling the truth during the debate, and his policy proposals clearly show he plans to strangle oil and gas. Behold the transition strategy.
The playbook is the one Barack Obama used to put coal on the road to ruin by relentlessly raising its cost. This included the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury rule and Clean Power Plan, which the Supreme Court blocked in 2015 and 2016. But by then it was too late, as coal’s share of power generation fell by a third and 40% of mining jobs were lost between 2009 and 2016.
Mr. Biden’s assault starts with a ban on drilling leases and development on federal land, which accounts for 22% of oil and 12% of gas production, mostly in Gulf Coast states. The American Petroleum Institute estimates this would cost 120,000 jobs in Texas, 62,000 in New Mexico and 21,000 in Alabama.
He also backs “robust federal standards” on methane releases from pipelines as well as storage facilities, which the Trump Administration relaxed. Large producers support stricter methane regulations because they can absorb the cost. But this would squeeze smaller players out of business.
Next he’d use the Endangered Species Act and National Monuments Act to limit lands open to development. The Obama Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015 walled off 10.7 million acres in the western U.S. for the sage grouse, but the Trump Administration pared those back.
The transitioning won’t stop there. Mr. Biden wants all infrastructure projects that require federal approval or receive federal funds to undergo a “climate test.” Regulators under the National Environmental Policy Act already must analyze the direct environmental impact.
But under Mr. Biden’s climate test, federal agencies would also have to project the costs from carbon emissions attributable to every new pipeline or liquefied natural gas terminal. Does it contribute to rising sea levels in Florida, say, or drought in sub-Saharan Africa? These potential costs are so elastically definable that they would let regulators ban almost any oil and gas project if they choose.
The former Veep would also use regulation to choke demand—for instance, by requiring expensive carbon sequestration technologies on power plants. According to Energy Information Administration estimates, these technologies raise the “overnight capital costs” of new gas-fired plants two- to three-fold.
Sweetened subsidies for wind and solar power would also make natural gas less competitive in wholesale markets. Prices for renewables sometimes already fall below zero in some markets. Americans would nonetheless pay more for power in Mr. Biden’s “transition” to a fossil-free grid as gas-fired plants are prematurely retired and replaced with expensive battery storage.
The irony, as Mr. Trump said at the debate, is that fracking is the main reason U.S. energy-related carbon emissions have fallen 15% since 2007. Cheaper natural gas has replaced coal, with the gas share of electric generation nearly doubling since 2007.
All of this will mean hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. Mr. Biden after the debate said he wouldn’t get “rid of fossil fuels for a long time,” perhaps not until 2050, and promised new jobs in green energy. Mr. Obama promised millions of new green jobs too, but the main jobs boom in his two terms was from the fracking revolution due to innovation and market demand.
Will laid-off roustabouts in Ohio get relocation subsidies to install solar panels in California? How about workers in industries that support or depend on fracking, such as Wisconsin sand mines and Pennsylvania cracker plants? Even the United Auto Workers project that increasing electric car production over the next several years would cost 35,000 jobs.
Mr. Biden’s energy transition has nothing to do with consumer choice or technological innovation, the way society moved from the horse-and-buggy to autos or from print newspapers to the internet. He’d use government coercion. The targets can at least take comfort that they won’t be banned. They’ll have the good fortune of being transitioned.
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