POTUS urged to suspend fossil fuel exports as gas prices hit record highs

POTUS urged to suspend fossil fuel exports as gas prices hit record highs
President Joe Biden (screengrab).

With gas prices surging to unprecedented levels across the United States, President Joe Biden on Thursday faced fresh calls to use his authority to temporarily halt crude oil exports that—in addition to damaging the climate—have contributed significantly to rising costs at the pump.

In 2015, the Republican-controlled Congress crammed into an omnibus spending bill a provision that ended the four-decade ban on U.S. crude oil exports, a decision backed by the oil and gas industry. Democratic President Barack Obama signed the measure into law despite pushback from climate advocates.

On Thursday, more than six years after the export ban was lifted, the Wall Street Journal reported that a "rapid rise" in the nation's fuel exports this year "has helped push gasoline prices to a record $5 a gallon and is pressuring U.S. prices of natural gas, which hit the highest levels in over a decade earlier this month."

"In recent months, companies and commodities traders have shipped more U.S. gasoline and diesel to Latin America and other foreign markets, reaping higher prices than the fuel could fetch domestically," the Journal noted. "The jumps in fuel shipments abroad are further draining U.S. inventories that were already languishing at low levels after output cuts during the worst of the pandemic."

That news came as no surprise to Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen's energy program. In 2015 congressional testimony, Slocum warned that lifting the crude oil export ban would "erode surplus domestic stockpiles and allow domestic oil producers to sell oil overseas for higher prices than what they are able to charge domestically," resulting in "higher gasoline prices for U.S. motorists and small businesses."

In a statement on Thursday, Slocum said "unfortunately this is happening today"—but stressed that Biden has the tools necessary to mitigate the pain.

Specifically, the 2015 law that lifted the oil export ban contains a provision giving the president the power to "impose export licensing requirements or other restrictions on the export of crude oil from the United States for a period of not more than one year, if the president declares a national emergency and formally notices the declaration of a national emergency in the Federal Register."

"It's time for the president to act, declare an emergency on behalf of working families, and limit exports of petroleum," said Slocum. "Record oil and natural gas exports have realigned the U.S. fossil fuel industry to prioritize maximizing profit for international markets, turning them away from serving the American consumer or providing energy independence. They cannot be relied upon to deliver affordable energy, as their calls to expand production will only fuel exports and drive domestic prices higher."

Reuters reported in December that the Biden administration was not considering halting U.S. oil exports in an attempt to bring down the price of gas, which at the time was around $3.34 per gallon nationally. In a December letter to the president, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers—including Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), who later resigned to join a lobbying firm that has worked on behalf of the oil and gas industry—implored Biden not to restrict oil exports, claiming it would make the crisis worse.

Since then, the national average price per gallon of gas has surged past $5, pushing overall inflation higher and ramping up pressure on the Biden administration to act.

Asked last month about possible limits on oil exports, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that Biden "is not taking any tools off the table." Granholm had previously signaled to the National Petroleum Council, a major fossil fuel industry group, that the administration had ruled out an export ban.

Thus far, Biden has released millions of barrels of crude from the nation's strategic reserves and pleaded directly with major U.S. oil companies to boost domestic production—actions that fall well short of what Democratic lawmakers and outside progressives have demanded.

"We called for banning oil exports seven months ago!" Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted last week, referring to a letter he sent along with nine other Democrats back in November. "This will lower prices and make the U.S. less dependent on the global price. The [U.S. government] isn't powerless to bring gas prices down."

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