As Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine drags on, it’s important to realize the role our energy choices are playing in the conflict. Our nation’s addiction to oil is financing violent autocrats, like Vladimir Putin, giving them the resources to wage wars abroad and oppress citizens at home. Congress and the White House have reacted by sanctioning Russia’s economy and banning fossil fuel imports from Russia to eliminate America as one of their customers, but it does not put Putin out of business. The best way for America to bankrupt Putin and other petro-dictators is by slashing oil demand here and around the world.
In 2006, I returned from tours of duty in Afghanistan with U.S. Special Forces determined to help the U.S. free itself from dependence on fossil fuels. The U.S. has spent well over $8 trillion over the past 40 years defending its energy interests in the Persian Gulf alone and lost too many American lives fighting to protect our access to oil from the Middle East. Make no mistake, dollars from oil sales finance our enemies in the Middle East, just as they do the Russian war machine. It is time to make fighting wars for oil, and financed by oil, a part of history.
Since returning from Afghanistan, I have built and helped finance companies that provide rooftop solar systems, electrify school buses, reduce building energy consumption, and recycle petroleum-based plastics. Seeing the growth of these companies and others like them, I know there is a path to energy independence that saves money and creates American jobs. Electrification of cars, trucks, and buildings can end our reliance on oil and cut costs for Americans, combating inflation too. Over the next five years, the electric vehicle incentives proposed by President Biden can reduce our demand for oil by more barrels than we were buying from Russia.
Let’s face it: “Drill baby drill” is no solution. It’s like telling an alcoholic to treat their hangover with a Bloody Mary. It might relieve some immediate pain, but it will only exacerbate the long-term problem. It’s a similar situation with natural gas, for which European countries rely heavily on Russia – a reliance that has made them reluctant to ban imports as part of international sanctions. In response, some want to increase America’s export of liquefied natural gas (LNG). That strategy can help to blunt the pain in Europe, but it will take years to implement. It will also turn U.S. natural gas into a global commodity, leaving Americans subject to the same price spikes we are suffering with oil. It is better to retrofit European buildings to be more efficient and run on clean electricity instead of Russian gas. This can be done before next winter.
Achieving energy independence is not just about Russia. It would be a mistake to trade energy dependence on one set of adversaries for industrial dependence on another, namely China. Today, China dominates production of lithium-ion cells for electric vehicles and polysilicon wafers for solar panels. But that doesn’t mean we should hesitate to ramp up renewable energy and vehicle electrification. In fact, just the opposite. We need smart policy, developed in coordination with our allies, to produce more of these building blocks of true energy independence at home.
Congress should promptly enact policies that expand our domestic manufacturing capabilities, such as those in President Biden’s agenda. We can do that while also ensuring our trade policies create savings for consumers, taking advantage of the knowledge and capacity of our democratic trading partners in Asia, Europe, and North America. In the same vein, we must strengthen our access to raw materials, from lithium and silicon to copper and steel, through responsible reuse, recycling, trade, and resource policies, lessening the stranglehold autocracies have on critical inputs.
President Biden recently announced he is invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) as a means of increasing production and mining of critical materials needed to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. We at AEE applaud that move, but we are also urging the Administration to go further with the DPA. For instance, polysilicon, which is needed for solar panels, next generation batteries, and computer chips, should be added to the critical materials list. And using the DPA to ramp up U.S. production of electric heat pumps and induction cooktops for installation in European homes could slash demand for Russian natural gas before next winter.
This strategy for real energy independence will strengthen America abroad and benefit us at home. As President Biden noted in the State of the Union, this transition to clean energy should cut the cost of transportation and electricity for American families by $500 a year. Manufacturing the building blocks of energy independence in America can revive domestic industry and create good, blue-collar jobs.
I was proud to join 49 other veterans of America’s armed forces in signing a letter to Congress stating that energy security is built on clean energy. That letter, which ran as an ad in the New York Times on April 3, concluded, “It’s time to deliver true energy security and invest in a clean energy economy that reduces the power hostile foreign leaders have on our economy, our national security, and our wallets.”
Russia’s invasion has already disrupted energy markets, with Americans feeling the pain at the gas pump and in heating bills. Because of our continued dependence on fossil fuels, that will not change overnight. This is precisely why we need to embark on the path to real energy independence now. For that, America needs to become the arsenal of clean energy. The free world cannot afford to wait.
Watch AEE’s video calling on the White House to expand use of the Defense Production Act to beef up manufacturing of advanced energy products by clicking below.