Climate Corner: Transition time is now

Mar 19, 2022

Eric Engle

Vladimir Putin is a petrostate autocrat, meaning Russia is a nation heavily dependent on oil and gas revenue and Putin, as an authoritarian who has made a mockery of any semblance of Russian democracy, is reliant on this revenue to achieve his aims. This includes his current aim of the violent takeover of the sovereign nation of Ukraine.

With Russia being a major player in global oil markets and the continent of Europe getting approximately 40% of its fossil gas (aka “natural gas,” the word “natural” being an industry-created term to make fossil methane sound friendlier), a heated discussion (pardon the pun) is underway on how best to deprive this petrostate autocrat of his most important source of wealth and power.

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as the rest of West Virginia’s congressional delegation, are insisting that we deprive Putin of petro largesse and power by massively driving up production of oil and gas in the U.S. Manchin wants to see the Mountain Valley Pipeline completed and Rep. David McKinley wants to see the Keystone XL pipeline reinitiated and completed. Gov. Jim Justice says that renewable and non-carbon sources of energy are just parsley around the plate and that our oil, coal and gas resources are the meat and potatoes. I find this line of “reasoning” interesting, to put it nicely.

The argument here is that we will deprive a petrostate autocrat of his greatest asset and the core source of his power by feeding the petroleum and methane beast. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. To quote Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Our entire congressional delegation, as well as our governor, know where their bread is buttered.

Thankfully, European Union leaders are living in reality. They understand that, while diversifying their sources for gas in the short-term can help boost reserves, they cannot replace Russian gas entirely and are therefore better-suited to abandon it as quickly as possible, along with all fossil fuels. To quote Executive Vice President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, “It is time we tackle our vulnerabilities and rapidly become more independent in our energy choices. Let’s dash into renewable energy at lightning speed. Renewables are a cheap, clean, and potentially endless source of energy and instead of funding the fossil fuel industry elsewhere, they create jobs here. Putin’s war in Ukraine demonstrates the urgency of accelerating our clean energy transition.”

The Keystone XL Pipeline was a planned extension and replacement of the Keystone Pipeline that was intended to pipe Canadian tar sands oil (the dirtiest oil resource in the world) from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast, almost entirely for shipment overseas. Alberta tar sands oil is extremely difficult to refine into gasoline and therefore more expensive, so it wouldn’t really help domestic gas prices anyway. The pipeline was only 8% complete after longer than a decade when President Biden had his State Department deny it a key permit on his first day in office. It would not lower gas prices here or assist our European allies.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline has been fined millions of dollars by both West Virginia and Virginia regulators for failing to control soil erosion and prevent water contamination. Not only that, but the argument for it from its inception was to boost domestic gas supplies. Now Manchin wants to discuss it as an answer for Europe. Which is it, Senator? Europe’s liquified natural gas facilities can’t handle additional imports right now and importing LNG across the Atlantic is not going to offset the loss of Russian gas.

By the way, all of this exporting of oil and gas since the ban on doing so was lifted under the Obama administration is part of the reason for increased prices at home. But the oil and gas industry isn’t interested in meeting demand with supply here at home anyway. Their profit margins are so high that it’s more convenient to blame “inflation” and keep consumers paying more. Now they have a new price boogeyman with Putin.

Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action joined with 200 organizations in a letter to President Biden recently asking that the president use the Defense Production Act to ramp up the deployment of renewable energy to transition the world off fossil fuels and generate millions of good-quality, union jobs. Specifically, the letter asks the President to:

* Rapidly scale up production, manufacturing, and deployment of renewable energy technologies, heat pumps, storage, and weatherization technologies here and abroad

* Create millions of long-term, high-paying domestic jobs while doing so, and

* Accelerate the transition to zero-emission public transportation, alternatives to car based transportation and related infrastructure domestically, and deploy it nationwide, especially to the most vulnerable communities.

The answer to Putin’s madness and to the climate crisis that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II recently continued to detail in a 3,675-page report is not “drill, baby, drill!” The answer is a transition to renewable energies, maximization of energy efficiency, sustainable agriculture and development, and massive decarbonization.


Eric Engle is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.