By ELLEN KNICKMEYER Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Amos Hochstein, President Joe Biden’s point man on global energy issues, says he knows transitioning away from climate-destroying fossil fuel pollution is the only way forward. He urgently advocates renewable energy, energy-smart thermostats and heat pumps.
But when it comes to tackling the pressing energy challenges presented by Russia’s war on Ukraine, Hochstein may also sound like the West’s oilfield pawn, grabbing a giant wrench for the world’s near-crisis energy deficits.
Appearing before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee this month on US aid to Central Asia and moving gas from Spain to the rest of Europe.
“We have to face the reality that today the European system depends on gas,” Hochstein told the AP after the hearing. It was a relatively rare public account from an envoy whose work is normally behind the scenes. “And I need to make sure that people in the winter have heat and electricity.”
Increasingly, however, some climate advocates are expressing concern about what they see as a Biden administration emphasis on heavy new U.S. natural gas and infrastructure projects as part of an all-out effort to Europe and the US their dependence on Russian oil and gas.
Climate groups charge that new spending on building pipelines, terminals, port facilities and storage threatens to increase reliance on fossil fuels for decades to come, while doing little to solve Europe’s more immediate energy crisis.
Criticism mounted Tuesday after Biden and other Group of Seven leaders softened their 2021 climate pledges to move away from public funding of new fossil fuel infrastructure, citing Russia’s war.
“Public support for gas infrastructure is not the climate presidency that Joe Biden promised,” Kate DeAngelis, international finance program manager at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement in response.
But with US companies nearly tripling US liquefied natural gas exports to Europe in the months since Russia invaded Ukraine, Hochstein cites his immediate challenge: getting Europeans through the end of the year without freezing in their homes.
The European Union received about 40% of its natural gas from Russia before the war. Western-driven sanctions and Russian cuts, as well as Europe’s major switch to non-Russian suppliers, are depriving Europe of Russian natural gas.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers welcomed Hochstein’s efforts to decouple Europe from Russian pipelines and called for more. Climate change and clean energy are “major challenges,” Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, chair of the Europe and Regional Security Cooperation panel where Hochstein appeared, told the AP. “But I think our number one priority here should be to defeat Putin and help Ukraine.”
The Biden administration has struggled to alleviate two problems simultaneously: a global energy crisis and a rapidly warming Earth.
Shortages in oil and gas supplies are creating problems for European and Asian allies that, if not addressed, could threaten the united economic front against Russian President Vladimir Putin. At home, the energy deficit is contributing to high gas prices, inflation and the discontent that threatens Democrats in November’s midterm elections and Biden’s future re-election.
But at the same time, scientists, climate advocates and the Biden administration itself say that world governments are counting down the time left in recent years to avoid the most devastating scenarios of climate change.
The rate at which the world now burns oil, natural gas and coal gives humans a 50-50 chance of exceeding the maximum expected average temperatures envisioned in the Paris climate agreement within five years, the World Meteorological Organization said. last month.
Some climate advocates fear the current energy shortage will send Biden and other world leaders back to an oil and gas drilling and construction perspective they had sworn to in the name of climate change, despite Biden’s climate efforts elsewhere. .
Many were dismayed by the joint declaration this week by Biden and other leaders in the G-7 club of wealthy democracies that it was once again right for governments to invest in gas infrastructure as a “temporary response.”
A dangerous and unnecessary move, climate advocates said of the G-7 climate step backwards.
“New funding for fossil fuel exploration and production infrastructure is wishful thinking,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted after the G7 statement. “Fossil fuels are not the answer. Renewable energy is.
Climate advocates are wary of what they see as Hochstein’s support for some infrastructure projects in Europe for liquefied natural gas.
Friends of the Earth notes its links to the oil and gas industry. They include serving as senior vice president of Houston-based LNG exporter Tellurian and as an advisory board member of Ukraine’s state-owned Naftogaz before resigning in 2020 to protest corruption he described in a newspaper column. In Hochstein’s government role, Biden has entrusted him with important political missions, including working with oil giant Saudi Arabia at a time of icy relations.
Hochstein described the US-backed LNG buildup in Europe as essential to preventing Russia from wielding power over Europe’s energy and economy.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the clean infrastructure to replace natural gas in the short to medium term,” Hochstein told the AP. “So that’s a hard and difficult balance to have. But that is what we commit to.
“And I agree with everyone who says this only reinforces the absolute need to speed up the energy transition” from oil and gas, he added.
Energy experts from environmental groups say there are cleaner ways to break up Russian gas.
Moving faster to curb gas flaring and venting by the energy industry, and plug natural gas leaks, both of which the Biden administration has already committed to working on, could get quick results without further damaging the climate. said Mark Brownstein, senior vice president for energy at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Brownstein pointed to a finding by the International Energy Agency that the fossil fuel industry leaked or wasted more natural gas last year than all the gas used in Europe’s power sector.
Natural gas is mainly methane. Methane from agriculture and fossil fuels alone generates about a quarter of all climate damage.
David Kieve, chairman of the defense arm of the Environmental Defense Fund, said days “come and go” since natural gas could be considered a “bridge fuel.” He was director of public engagement on the White House Council on Environmental Quality in Biden’s first year.
“I think there is an understanding that we have to go even faster.”
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