Hearing on Biden’s Dip Into Strategic Petroleum Reserves Becomes Debate on Race, Renewables

A House Oversight Subcommittee hearing on President Joe Biden’s decision to draw down the Strategic Petroleum Reserves had some tense moments as some committee members called witnesses shills for the oil industry and accused one of espousing white supremacist views.

Both witnesses denied working for the fossil fuel industry, and the witness accused of racism said his detractors on the committee were lying.

Alex Epstein, president of the Center for Industrial Progress and author of “Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Gas—Not Less,” called the accusation by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) that he had espoused racist views “a truly despicable and false attack.”

The March 8 hearing was called “Burning the Midnight Oil: Why Depleting the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is not a Solution to America’s Energy Problem, Part I.”

It was convened by the Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Energy Policy, and Regulatory Affairs.

Republicans on the committee, including Chairman Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas), said Biden is the fourth president to draw from the reserve since it was set up in 1975.

Floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina
Floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina
Floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina fill the streets near downtown New Orleans, La., on Aug. 30, 2005. (David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

The first drawdown was in 1991 at the beginning of Operation Desert Storm. The next was in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the refining capacity of the Gulf Coast along the shores of Louisiana and Mississippi. and the third was in 2011 after supply issues in Libya and other countries.

Biden drew more oil than all three previous presidents combined and had no legal reason for the withdrawal, Fallon said.

According to Fallon—on his first day in office Biden began following through on his promise to end the fossil fuel industry.

He canceled the Keystone Pipeline, killing thousands of jobs and shutting down a supply of crude oil for American refineries. He also began canceling drilling leases on public lands.

This drove gas prices up from around $2 per gallon in January 2020 to almost $3 per gallon when Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered his military to attack Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Fallon said gas prices reached a high of $5 per gallon. Even though prices did drop after the drawdown, Fallon said they are still around $2.76 per gallon, or 38 percent higher than in 2021.

“Forcing Americans struggling with out-of-control inflation to foot the bill for poor policy,” Fallon said.

Bush, the committee’s ranking member, took issue with Fallon’s assessment. She said Biden was forced to take drastic steps after Putin invaded Ukraine. She said Putin’s actions destabilized the global energy markets.

Firefighters are at work to put out a fire at an oil depot
Firefighters are at work to put out a fire at an oil depot
Firefighters are at work to put out a fire at an oil depot near Chuguiv, Kharkiv region, following Russian missiles strikes on April 22, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden’s quick action helped rein in prices, according to Bush, as the situation qualified as an emergency under the law.

She said the issue was exacerbated by America’s overdependence on oil.

Bush also claimed that pollution from fossil fuels disproportionately negatively affected “black and brown people.”

“The best way to avoid these challenges in the future is to end our reliance on oil,” she said.

Bush was critical of two of the three witnesses called to testify, including Epstein. She said Epstein, and Ilia Bouchouev, a managing partner of Pentathlon Investments, worked for the oil industry and could not be trusted.

Bouchouev acknowledged having worked for a company owned by the Koch brothers, and Epstein said he was a consultant to various companies, including a company in the coal industry.

Bush also accused Epstein of writing a paper in college in which he said Western culture was superior to African and Latin American cultures. Epstein acknowledged writing the paper and said he stands by the statement.

He said race has nothing to do with the superiority of Western culture. Epstein said he was talking about the individual freedoms and security that Western culture is built on.

Freedoms For Everyone

“I want everyone around the world to have the same freedoms that I enjoy in America,” Epstein said. He pointed out that some cultures he compared the West to practiced female genital mutilation.

“I thought that not having female genital mutilation was better than having female genital mutilation,” Epstein said.

The third witness called to testify was Demond Drummer of the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy of The New School in New York.

He told the committee that the United States needed to follow Biden’s plan to switch America from a dependence on petroleum to 100 percent renewable energy such as wind and solar.

He said energy prices keep rising, hitting low-income families the hardest. According to Drummer, the poor pay a larger portion of their income on energy and transportation than other members of society.

According to Drummer, renewable energy would make America truly energy independent by allowing it to withdraw from global oil markets. He said that once the infrastructure is in place, renewable energy is the “most cost-effective” energy.

Can’t Drill Way Out

Drummer said that because oil is traded in a global market, nothing America could do would have any meaningful effect on energy costs.

“America can’t drill its way out of this,” Drummer said.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Penn.) asked Drummer how Biden could reduce gas prices with oil from the reserves if America could have no real effect in the global market.

“The point is we can do something about [gas prices]. Clearly, we can,” Perry said.

Epstein took issue with Drummer’s assertion that renewable energy was not subject to global markets or influence from other countries.

He pointed out that China controls almost all the rare earth minerals and raw materials needed for solar panels, batteries, and other equipment for renewable energy.

He said the idea that America could be energy independent with renewables is “a proven fiction.”

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