Wednesday, January 27, 2021


In Washington, you have to be careful what you say, because even if you’re kidding, you never know when people might take you seriously.

This week had one of those moments, when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute (API) tut-tutted the Biden administration for suspending oil and natural gas permits and announcing that there would be no new leases for oil and gas production on federal lands.

Yet not five days earlier, the Chamber had welcomed the Biden administration to town, and it was not shy: “The Chamber welcomes President Biden’s action to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. It is critical that the United States restore its leadership role in international efforts to address the climate challenge.”

After reading that, it’s tough to see why they are upset with the administration. The pause in energy permitting is just the United States restoring its “leadership role in international efforts to address the climate challenge.” Heck, the Chamber’s own position on climate change notes that “U.S. climate policy should recognize the urgent need for action.” The Biden team is simply recognizing the urgent need for action, and it is acting with urgency.

What did they think the Biden administration was going to do?

In a speech last year, one of the Chamber’s senior officials noted: “Momentum for potentially historic climate and energy innovation legislation appears to be growing on Capitol Hill, and the Chamber is proud to be part of a diverse coalition working to make it happen.”

If you’re proud to make climate legislation happen, you should be happy that President Biden killed the Keystone XL pipeline and stopped oil and gas development on federal lands.

API also seemed a bit off-balance. They said: “Restricting development on federal lands and waters is nothing more than an ‘import more oil’ policy.”

That’s sort of right. The Biden administration approach is actually a “produce no more oil anywhere” policy. The best part of the statement? API couldn’t even get to the end of the paragraph without some obsequiousness. They wrote (can’t make this up): “We stand ready to engage with the Biden administration on ways to address America’s energy challenges … “

Earlier in January, API offered: “We share President Biden’s goal of leadership in addressing climate change, and we have long held that any action must be global in nature. That’s why we support the ambitions of the Paris agreement, including global action to reduce greenhouse emissions …”

Why were they then annoyed by the killing of Keystone XL or the suspension of drilling permits or anything else? The Biden administration is only doing what it said it was going to do — and what API said it wanted them to do — treating climate change as if it were an urgent challenge.

The problem with trade associations is that in some instances they include companies owned by foreign actors, especially Europeans. In some cases, many of their largest companies are tech companies that have little interest in the physical economy. In some cases, they are simply compromised by their weakest members.

In all fairness, the Chamber and API weren’t alone. The Teamsters and the United Association (plumbers and pipefitters) also expressed dismay about the Keystone decision, despite the fact that both unions endorsed Mr. Biden and knew he was going to take these actions.

Even TC Energy, the Canadian company trying to finish the Keystone XL pipeline, made a feeble and embarrassing last-minute offer to run its compressors on renewable energy or some such thing.

The Biden administration has been clear about its intentions and clear with respect to how it has communicated them. As Maya Angelou wrote: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

It’s everyone else who has the problem with communication and intentions.

There’s the fundamental problem. If you work on energy issues, once you surrender on the main point — that climate change is an urgent threat that warrants an equally urgent response — and the secondary point — that oil and natural gas are problems rather than benefits to mankind — you’ve already lost.

Surrender only emboldens those who would destroy you. You can’t negotiate with people whose sole goal is to destroy you.

It’s a lesson that lots of people will learn before the Biden administration is done.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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