America stands at a strategic crossroads.
We could enact the Biden administration’s climate change policies that would shut down whole industries, provide pink slips to millions of American workers during a pandemic with no alternatives in the near term, drastically raise prices on American families, undermine economic growth, decrease energy reliability, diminish our national security and do little or nothing to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
Or we could pursue a worker-oriented energy and climate strategy that would empower American ingenuity, expand good-paying jobs, including union jobs, in all of the critical energy sectors of the U.S. economy — hydrocarbons, renewables, mining, nuclear — make energy more reliable and affordable for consumers, boost our economic and national security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at home and abroad.
Let me highlight a few areas of this better, worker-oriented energy and climate plan that we will unveil in the next few weeks.
First, we need to continue to fully develop our existing lower-emissions resources, like natural gas, at home and export them abroad. Between 2005 and 2019, largely because of the expansion of U.S. natural gas and the dramatic increase in its use in our electric grid, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector declined by 33 percent. During this same period, our economy grew by 20 percent, energy consumption fell by 2 percent, and per capita emissions dropped to their lowest levels since 1950.
In fact, in 2013, President Barack Obama was touting the benefits of natural gas. “We produce more natural gas than ever before — and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it,” he said. “The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”
He’s right. Unfortunately, John Kerry and President Joe Biden’s other advisers want to restrict natural gas production and fire the tens of thousands of hardworking Americans in the sector at a time when there are no employment substitutes. This makes no strategic sense.
Not only should we be increasing the use of natural gas here at home, we should also be exporting it — in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG — to countries that lack our reserves of this cleaner burning fuel source. The world is craving gas. The market in the Asia-Pacific is particularly strong and exporting to some of these countries — Japan, Korea, Taiwan, India and even China — would be a win-win-win. It would continue to create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs for American workers, deepen our country’s security ties with Japan, Korea and Taiwan and increase our advantages over China. Importantly, it would also dramatically decrease global emissions, as U.S. LNG could displace Chinese and Indian coal and cut emissions in half.
Second, to support the renewable energy industry, we need to build out our renewable energy and manufacturing sectors. Together with our allies, we can grow these sectors using environmental and labor standards that are second to none, paying our workers prevailing wages and no longer empowering countries, like China, that actually use forced labor to make renewable energy technology, like solar panels, that the United States imports.
For instance, critical minerals are vital to many alternative energy and transportation technologies, like batteries and solar panels. The problem? China controls nearly 80 percent of these resources. As it stands, every battery produced for electric cars and every house that we equip with solar panels invariably strengthens China and massively increases our trade deficit with them. And because China and other countries have some of the world’s worst environmental standards, this mineral production could actually increase global CO2 emissions.
We have many of the natural resources necessary to produce our own alternative energy technologies, but we lack the industry to produce and refine these products. Further, manufacturing and production are held back by a protracted and inefficient federal permitting system. Domestic development of our natural resources and infrastructure projects can take 10 years or more, resulting in reduced investment. By incentivizing the production and refining of domestic minerals, and streamlining our permitting process, the U.S. can become a dominant player in the renewable energy market, limit the hold our geopolitical foes have on supply chains, empower the American worker and reduce emissions.
We also need to support U.S. innovation for battery storage technology, develop substitutes for certain scarce critical minerals, bolster microgrids for rural electrification, advance small nuclear reactors and support carbon capture technology efforts, among other innovations.
Some of those elements are already at hand. I’ve introduced the Rebuild America Now Act to ensure our permitting process does not unnecessarily delay projects and give competitors like China huge strategic advantages. The USE IT Act, passed last Congress, would reduce barriers for the development of projects and support carbon capture and direct air capture research. We can also provide stable private sector incentives, invest more in the Department of Energy and our national lab infrastructure, and offer additional incentives to encourage research and development that will advance our energy technology into the next age.
Finally, we cannot enact policies that put thousands of Americans out of work during a recession, as the Biden administration continues to do. Biden’s energy plan promises “a clean energy revolution that creates millions of unionized, middle-class jobs.” While this sounds great, it’s just not true. The average annual pay for workers in the oil and gas industry is significantly higher than those working on alternative energy. If we want the energy transition to build up the middle class and not leave skilled workers behind, we must pursue policies that build on and expand job opportunities in all sectors of the U.S. economy — oil and gas, nuclear, wind and solar, and mining.
Our energy resources provide America with an incredible strategic advantage. Through innovation and the strength of our workers, the United States has once again become the world’s No. 1 producer of oil, natural gas and renewables in the world. We can, and we should, use these resources as a bridge to the technologies that will create a cleaner energy future, not unilaterally restrict production of American energy and hand workers in these critical sectors pink slips, as the Biden administration is now doing.
We can begin that work now by continuing to lead on energy production and lowering emissions, strengthening our economy and our national security, and ensuring that hardworking Americans are not being forced to sacrifice their livelihoods.
Sen. Dan Sullivan is a Republican representing the state of Alaska. He is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works and Commerce committees. He previously served as Alaska attorney general and commissioner for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and as assistant secretary of State for economic, energy and business affairs in the George W. Bush administration.