Putin, of course, wants a compliant American president who will look the other way as he continues his attempted rape of Ukraine, his infiltration of Moldova and Georgia, and his plans to take Poland and the Baltic states back into the Russian empire. Like with Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, he’s eager to have more allies willing to help him make the world safer for billionaire autocrats.
Mohammad Bin Salman was so pleased with the top-secret intelligence that Jared Kushner is alleged to have given him — that let him stage a successful coup to take over Saudi Arabia and its trillions in wealth — that he gave the Trump family billions and continues to subsidize Donald Trump himself by laundering what appears to be hundreds of millions of dollars through the LIV golf tournaments at Trump properties.
The Trump administration was also fine with MBS brutally murdering and dismembering Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and turned a blind eye to Saudi human rights abuses while Trump himself went around US law to sell them advanced weaponry under a phony pretext, a situation MBS would very much like back.
Between the two of them, Saudi Arabia and Russia have a huge influence over the worldwide price of oil. And that price, as we saw leading up to the 2022 midterm elections, can damage a Democratic administration.
And there’s every reason to believe they’re planning to do the same in 2024, unless the Biden administration acts now.
Back in 1973 — the last time a foreign country used oil to damage America while the US fossil fuel industry exploited the crisis to make record profits — President Nixon figured out a way to solve the problem: he made it illegal (there were a few loopholes) to export oil produced in the US.
In 2015, however, in response to a 2-year intense lobbying campaign and big bucks, President Obama signed off on a bipartisan effort to blow up that solution, handing a trillion-dollar bonanza to US oil companies and more tightly tying US oil prices to world prices.
President Obama had noted the milestone (we imported 60 percent of our oil as recently as 2005 when President Bush complained that the US was “addicted to foreign oil”) at a 2013 news conference, saying:
“This year, for the first time in a very long time, we're producing more oil than we’re importing. So we’ve got a lot of good things going for us.”
As The Washington Post noted at the time:
“Led by a handful of oil and energy companies — Hess Corp., Devon Energy, ConocoPhillips, Marathon, and Continental Resources — and the American Petroleum Institute (API), the campaign generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees for K Street strategists.
“The companies, API and their allied lobbying coalition enlisted the help of at least 11 lobby and consulting firms in Washington to sell their message to Capitol Hill, the media, and the public.”
Back when the Nixon administration criminalized oil exports, the US still had to import oil: we’d been using more than we produced since 1952.
That situation changed because of technological advances (fracking and slant drilling) by 2014, when the US became the world’s third largest producer of crude oil behind Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Had Congress and Obama not authorized a return to crude oil exports in 2015, we could have entirely decoupled ourselves from the world oil markets in 2019 when we became technically energy independent.
As a result, US oil prices could have been set as a function of supply and demand, rather than being influenced by changes in Saudi or Russian production levels.
The oil industry, however, wanted to have it both ways. By exporting oil at high world prices that was cheaply produced here, they could harvest huge financial returns: importing foreign oil for domestic use, meanwhile, helped justify keeping prices (and profits) high.
The good-government group Public Citizen recently issued a report calling for a return to the crude oil export ban. Justifying that policy, they noted:
“For crude oil, about 29% of U.S. production in the first six months of 2022 was exported. That is more than double the 12% exported in 2017 and quadruple the 7% exported in 2016, the first full year of unrestricted crude oil exports.
“In the first six months of 2022, 3.4 million barrels per day of crude oil were exported from the U.S., nearly three times as much as in 2017, when about 1.2 million barrels per day were exported.”
While this has been hugely profitable for the US oil industry, the need to balance those exports with foreign imports has made America vulnerable to price manipulation and — if carried to an extreme — embargoes that could cripple our economy like happened in 1973.
Seventy climate groups have petitioned the Biden administration and Congress to restore the export ban, a step that would eliminate the need for many of the new oil drilling operations that have been recently authorized or are in the hopper here in the US.
Legislation proposed by Senator Ed Markey and Representative Adriano Espaillat would turn this into law, as Rep. Espaillat noted:
“The BAN Fossil Fuel Exports Act is a much-needed step to prioritize American consumers and to reaffirm the U.S.’s commitment to addressing climate change on a global scale. As our national economy continues its recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic, we must ensure hard-working Americans are not shouldered with the burdens of high energy costs and the real-world effects of global heating.
“This bill would make real progress towards preserving our planet while supporting American families by bringing down domestic costs.”
Given Republican control of the House and their ability to filibuster legislation in the Senate, however, an alternate path would be for President Biden to simply declare a climate emergency — there’s more than enough science and cost in dollars and lives from our current climate crisis — and put the ban into place by executive order.
Banning crude oil exports would not only be a good thing for the planet; it would also insulate our nation from the whims of overseas autocrats.
National energy independence could be sold to voters — and, thus, to Republicans — as the patriotic thing to do. It’s a national security issue as much as anything else, after all, and that sales pitch often has a broader political appeal than simply “doing the right thing” or trying to mitigate global warming.
So, reach out to your members of Congress and let them know it’s time to reinstate the crude oil export ban.
Do it for the planet, for your children and grandchildren, and to prevent Putin and MBS from teaming up with the GOP again to screw Democrats in 2024.