Beyond Sanctions: President Biden Should Declare a National Energy Emergency

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President BidenJoe BidenGas prices hit a new high of 0.43 a gallon, up 79 cents in two weeks Five key developments in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Biden’s CIA chief leads the charge against war Putin’s information MORELast week’s announcement declaring a ban on the import of Russian oil and gas into the United States is good news. He accedes to bipartisan demands from Congress, as well as from President Volodymyr Zelensky. But that doesn’t go far enough. Additionally, the president should declare a national energy emergency.

Declaring a national emergency would give the president the power to intervene in energy markets to prevent American consumers from bearing too much of the burden due to rapidly rising prices at the pump, which have reached levels record. Although the President cannot directly impose price controls, declaring an energy emergency would expand his options under a number of federal laws to increase supply and manage demand, including increasing the production of national energy and conservation measures. It would also expand the president’s powers to tackle the root cause of Russia’s influence in the global economy: an overreliance on fossil fuels.

In responding to the Russian challenge, the United States should not simply adopt a “Drill, Baby, Drill” policy. Although domestic production would need to be boosted temporarily, declaring a national energy emergency would empower the president to enact a long-term plan to support a global transition away from reliance on fossil fuels. After all, even as Russia invaded Ukraine, climate scientists released another report urging world leaders to take drastic action to avoid a climate-destabilized future. Declaring an energy emergency would meet that need, and it would follow, albeit with a narrower focus, previous calls by Democratic lawmakers to declare the climate crisis itself a national emergency.

Declaring a national energy emergency would unlock executive powers to accelerate efforts to phase out fossil fuels in power generation, transportation and industrial manufacturing. Specifically, it would give the President the power to expedite the “production or construction of energy” critical to national security under the Defense Production Act, including not only conventional oil and gas, but also solar and wind energy, battery storage and the improvement of transmission networks. It would also allow federal loan guarantees to essential industries to build electric vehicles, electric heat pumps and high-speed trains. Emergency tariffs could be applied to enforce international climate obligations, perhaps in conjunction with the European Union’s Green Deal announced last July, as well as to manage global energy costs.

Some observers warn that declaring national emergencies can too easily expand presidential power and undermine the democratic authority of Congress. Even in the face of increasingly urgent calls from scientists for climate action, Congress has remained inert. The climate crisis won’t wait, and neither will American energy consumers.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows how intertwined global struggles for democracy and climate solutions are. Authoritarian oil states wield disproportionate influence because the global economy is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Over time, a large-scale transition to climate-friendly energy sources will reduce the geopolitical power of oil states such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. A national intelligence estimate confirms that Vladimir PoutineVladimir Vladimirovich PutinGas prices hit a new high of 0.43 a gallon, up 79 cents in two weeks Russian prosecutors warn Western companies over arrests and asset seizures Five key developments in the invasion of Ukraine by Russia MORE fears decarbonization efforts. He sees that the energy transition to deal with the climate crisis will degrade the power of his oil state. However, in the short term, this transition will also lead to geopolitical instability in energy prices which should play to the advantage of the petrostates. Declaring an energy emergency would give the President the additional tools needed to deal with this economic instability, increasing the supply of fossil fuels in the short term, but also quickly moving towards building new energy resources for a sustainable future.

President Biden has already set precedents by using his power to declare national emergencies to punish China’s suppression of democracy in Hong Kong as well as impose sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Declaring an energy emergency in general, and not just with regard to Russia in Ukraine, would unlock powers to help American consumers now and reduce the outsized power of the oil states.

With public opinion strongly in favor of both Ukraine’s defense and action on climate change, the president is expected to double down on his announcement to ban Russian fossil fuel imports and declare a national energy emergency – no only to stop Putin, but also to start building a sustainable world in which authoritarian oil states can no longer hold the global economy hostage.

Eric W. Orts is the Guardsmark Professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

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