A capable presidential administration plans, anticipates and implements strategies. An ineffective administration bounces haphazardly from crisis to crisis. It’s the difference between playing chess and playing pinball.
President Biden’s mismanagement of skyrocketing gas prices gives us a hint as to what game he’s playing.
Gas prices, already high and rising due to supply chain problems and inflation, skyrocketed when Mr. Biden announced a ban on U.S. imports of Russian oil. Before making that announcement, a capable administration would have started getting government out of the way of domestic energy producers and opening access to our vast oil and gas resources on public lands.
Instead, Mr. Biden’s administration has made it more difficult for America to produce and sell energy. Rather than clear the way for American energy producers, Mr. Biden prefers to ask human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran to do for the United States what he will not.
At first, Mr. Biden patted himself on the back for his plans to restrict oil and natural gas-based energy. Now that gasoline prices are really taking off, however, he denies that he has slowed domestic oil drilling.
But he has.
Not only did he block major oil and gas operations, but he also broke the law to do it.
On Mr. Biden’s first day in office, he issued an executive order directing the Secretary of the Interior to put a “temporary” (bureaucratese for “permanent”) moratorium on the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program. That program directs the Bureau of Land Management to lease certain lands in Alaska for oil and gas extraction.
A few days later, he issued another order “pausing” oil and gas leases on all public lands and waters.
According to the Bureau, Alaska’s Coastal Plain is “some of the most highly prospective land on Alaska’s North Slope.” It contains billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. It is a king’s ransom of energy wealth, and the law requires that the administration make it available for extraction.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration complied, and the bureau began issuing leases to energy firms toward the end of his term. But Mr. Biden terminated the program immediately and likely violated the Administrative Procedure Act in the process. His decision to pause leases on public lands, meanwhile, violated another law that requires quarterly lease sales.
The result: Mr. Biden has unlawfully trapped much of America’s vast energy reserves behind a wall of bureaucratic red tape, leaving them unavailable now that the country needs them. Because of that, Americans will suffer at the pumps far more than they ought to.
If Mr. Biden were playing chess instead of pinball, he wouldn’t have made this mistake.
At the very least, he would have taken steps to cure other problems that are artificially inflating oil prices. He would have, for example, issued a Jones Act waiver, temporarily suspending the law while pushing Congress to repeal it permanently.
The Jones Act requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be sent on ships made, flagged and crewed by Americans. That severely restricts shipping options and makes American shipping much more expensive than foreign shipping. So expensive that it’s often cheaper to buy foreign oil and gas and so limited that—in the case of liquefied natural gas—there are no Jones Act compliant ships to transport it.
As a result, Americans are often stuck with expensive foreign energy rather than the cheaper energy we produce here. Only the uniquely twisted logic found in Washington could justify a law that makes it cheaper to buy foreign oil and gas over American.
Hawaii, for example, gets 28% of its oil imports from Russia, partly because the Jones Act makes it too expensive for Hawaiians to buy gasoline from the mainland. Hawaii will lose more than a quarter of its imported supply, and Mr. Biden has no plan to replace it with American energy.
Instead, his administration is telling people to buy electric cars. Not that it will do Hawaiians any good; petroleum-fired power plants supply more than three-fourths of the state’s electricity.
If Mr. Biden reopened the Coastal Plain and public lands and waters to exploration, it would likely lower prices somewhat simply by sending the global market a signal that American energy is open for business. But it will take time for production to ramp up and lower prices further.
If only someone had planned for this a year ago.
As with his withdrawal from Afghanistan, Mr. Biden again failed to anticipate and mitigate negative consequences. It’s high time the administration stopped playing pinball. The American people pay too high a price when he misses the ball.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times