As gas prices rise, the Biden administration is “looking for someone to blame, and unfortunately they really just need to turn and look at themselves,” Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., says. 

The Biden administration “talks about environmental sustainability, [but] they don’t think about economic sustainability as well,” Graves says, adding that when it comes to energy policy, President Joe Biden seems to be “governing by emotion, not by fact, science, and economics.” 

Graves, who heads the Energy, Climate, and Conservation task force for the House’s GOP caucus, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” from the House Republican Issues Conference in Florida to discuss Biden’s mishandling of American energy policy, and what lawmakers can do in the long and short term to lower gas prices and move the country back toward energy independence. 

We also cover these stories:

  • Biden proposes a $5.8 trillion budget for fiscal year 2023.
  • A federal judge says it’s likely that former President Donald Trump and a legal adviser, John Eastman, committed federal crimes by trying to prevent Congress’ certification of the 2020 election.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs into law a bill designed to prevent teachers from offering instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to children in third grade or younger.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Virginia Allen: Gas prices are at an all-time high. Everyone is asking, “Is there an end in sight?” Well, here with us to answer that question is Congressman Garret Graves of Louisiana, who also serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for being here.

Rep. Garret Graves: You bet. Thanks for having me.

Allen: So Congressman, President [Joe] Biden has said that high gas prices are a result of Russia invading Ukraine and the U.S. making the decision to no longer buy oil from Russia. Is this accurate? Is Russia really to blame for our high gas prices at the pump?

Graves: Well, first of all, it’s important to bring a little bit of facts into the question here. So, you can go back and you can look and immediately after the presidential election in 2020, you began seeing a slow creeping of gas prices just in anticipation of what was going to happen.

When President Biden was sworn in on the first day, he signed an executive order stopping new energy production, stopping projects that had already been approved and were in the implementation process. From then on, just went through and threw up obstacle and impediment, obstacle and impediment to U.S. energy production. So you similarly saw a consistent increase in prices from his Inauguration Day on.

Now, did prices go up again at a faster rate when [Russian President Vladimir] Putin invaded Ukraine? Yes, but the reason was because during the last year, President Biden increased our dependence upon Russian crude oil by 161%.

So if we had just produced more domestically, we wouldn’t have needed the Russian oil, which meant that when they banned Russian oil, it wouldn’t have had any impact on the United States.

So these were all self-imposed problems. They’re looking for someone to blame, and unfortunately they really just need to turn and look at themselves.

Allen: Well, and even speaking of blaming people, we’ve even seen how Speaker Nancy Pelosi lay blame at the feet of oil companies. In America, she said that we call on industry to boost production and stop hoarding profits. Are these companies doing that? Are they hoarding profits? Are they stunting production?

Graves: Well, Virginia, just think about it for just a minute. If you had the ability to produce a lot more energy and you see where prices are today, where you could make $100-plus a barrel of oil, gas prices have significantly increased for natural gas as well, why would you sit there and hoard it or keep it in the ground?

Now, have there been some actions by the administration to create uncertainty or to impose more regulations and restrictions on our American energy industry? Absolutely. They’re doing all these environmental and social justice goals. We recently had the Securities and Exchange Commission tell companies they had to report their greenhouse gases to the Securities and Exchange Commission, a financial-related federal agency.

So, they’re thwarting or they’re blocking investment in oil and gas and American oil and gas, they’re imposing new regulations, they’re imposing new cost. Everything that you’re seeing right now related to higher energy prices really are self-imposed by this administration. I’ll say it again, this was preventable.

Allen: How was it preventable? What are the things that the Biden administration should have been doing?

Graves: Well, so, if you look back during the Trump administration, we maintained price certainty, you saw much more consistent prices. Another fact that you don’t ever hear discussed in the media, we actually had lower greenhouse gas submissions, and we had higher energy security or self-dependence, energy independence, or energy dominance, as former Interior Secretary [Ryan] Zinke used to refer to it.

So, this isn’t something, “Oh gosh, we have to do Operation Warp Speed,” this is simply go back and reverse the flawed policies that you put in place that got us in this quandary today.

Allen: I’ve spoken with a number of people recently who have brought up the Keystone pipeline and who talk about how construction should have continued on the Keystone XL pipeline. How would that affect American oil production? I mean, won’t it take years for the Keystone pipeline to be producing oil and really getting oil to the American people?

Graves: Well, first, let’s take a look at their decision. They said they rejected it or shut it down or prevented the project from moving forward because they said it would result in greater greenhouse gas emissions. Yet just the other day, The White House press secretary said that all of the oil was being produced anyway, it was just being transported by different measures.

Look, if you’re concerned about the environment, lowest emissions is a pipeline. Safest way, fewest spills is a pipeline. So, what are you doing? At the same time, they lifted restrictions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to allow Vladimir Putin to build his pipeline while restricting ours.

So look, I’ve got to be truthful here. If the Keystone project wasn’t stopped, would it solve all of our problems today? No, it wouldn’t solve all our problems today. But let’s keep in mind, you started out asking about what the future looks like, and we’re not on a trajectory to solve this problem, we’re not on a trajectory to see significantly lower prices right now.

So we need to be thinking not just about what’s the solution for today, but what’s the solution for a year from now, from five years from now, from 10 years from now, to where we get ourselves out of this hole that the Biden administration has dug us into.

Allen: Yeah, well, and we’ve seen from the Biden administration that they’re starting to consider, “OK, where do we buy oil from if we’re not buying it from Russia?” Looking toward Venezuela, Saudi Arabia. What’s your response to this?

Graves: Oh, look, if you think that going from one authoritarian regime or dictator, Vladimir Putin, to turning to Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or what they’re pushing on renewable energy plays into China’s hands—I mean, do you really need to continue to put your hand on the stove and get burned over and over and over and over again before you realize, “Hey, maybe I should stop doing that”? We can’t double and triple down on these strategies that don’t work.

It’s not just other countries. Look at states like California that have been very aggressive on their climate change initiatives, they’ve got the eighth-worst emissions growth in the nation, they’re the most dependent state on foreign energy, twice the electricity rates in my home state of Louisiana. Which of these things do you think is successful that you want to model after? These are destructive policies.

You’ve seen mistakes in the U.K. where they tried to move to wind too aggressively and didn’t have sufficient energy sources up in New England. They stopped with natural gas pipelines, had to bring in liquified natural gas from Russia, from Vladimir Putin.

I mean, you can’t make this stuff up, shame on this administration. If they can’t learn from successes and failures, the successes of the previous administration, the failures of states and the U.K. and Germany that tried to move too aggressively in a different direction, it’s not going to have an outcome any different than we’ve seen in these other places.

Allen: Is there anything that lawmakers can be doing to get gas prices down right now?

Graves: I think that there are things we can be doing in the short, mid and long term, and I think that unfortunately, some of the options we have available to us for the short term are limited, because the Biden administration thwarted American energy production, because they have put so much regulatory hurdles and burdens in front of our industry.

But I do think that releasing additional strategic petroleum reserve energy, working with our American oil and gas producers and giving them predictability and regulatory relief, stopping the blocking of investing in our conventional energy industry in the United States, those are things we can be doing in the short term. But it can’t just be that, we’ve got to recognize you have to resume domestic production of energy for our kind of one in five-year strategy.

For 10-year strategy, looking at the increasing role that inevitably renewable energy sources are going to play, and even things like next-generation nuclear, small modular reactors, and others. There are opportunities there, but it’s going to take a plan and we’re going to have to have the regulatory compatibility, the investment compatibility with it.

Everybody in the Biden administration talks about environmental sustainability, they don’t think about economic sustainability as well. It’s a really important part of the equation that all of them seem to have just forgotten, because they are governing by emotion, not by fact, science, and economics.

Allen: I want to get your thoughts on Pete Buttigieg’s tenure as secretary of transportation. What grade would you give him?

Graves: Well, first of all, personally had the chance to meet with him, talk to him, I think he’s a really nice guy. So just personally, I do, I think he’s a nice guy.

One of the first things that they did when they came in is they said, “Hey, we’re going to introduce new criteria that’s going to guide how we hand out money for infrastructure projects. It’s going to be climate change, racial equity, environmental justice, enhancing union opportunities.” They came later and said they’re going to look at how they can change the trajectory of marginalized communities and historically disadvantaged communities.

So look, those things, I don’t have a problem with some of them, but how do you measure how a road project affects environmental justice or racial equity? I’m not real sure. The reality is there’s not criteria to really measure that.

So when they came out and they started doing their multibillions of dollars in grants, my home state of Louisiana, one of the highest African American populations in America, one of the states most susceptible to sea rise, after $2 billion was handed out, we got $18.5 million and it was to increase fare collection for New Orleans’ transit system.

I mean, one, I think that … they politicized these investments, which, roads and bridges shouldn’t be political. They started giving out grants for infrastructure to address health inequities and building 13 walking trails and bike trails with gas tax revenues, they’re supposed to go to roads and bridges.

So I think that they’ve really kind of distorted what America’s priorities are in regard to our infrastructure needs and addressing traffic solutions and mobility solutions.

Then lastly, on the regulatory side, in the infrastructure bill that I opposed, they did have a provision in there that I was supportive of that tried to expedite the regulatory approval process. It takes seven years to get through an environmental analysis on a road, and so there was language in there that expedited it. To date, they’ve just ignored it. It’s in the law and they’ve just ignored it. So it’s been pretty frustrating working with them.

Allen: Yeah. I want to get your thoughts on something that’s a little bit more kind of in the weeds of this conversation around energy policy and that’s fracking. We know from environmental groups, anytime you kind of say the word fracking, there’s a lot of pushback right away. Could you explain just a little bit, first, about what is fracking and then, do you think it’s an effective solution to actually solve some of the energy crisis that we’re facing right now?

Graves: Sure. So, fracking has really just been a revolution in the United States, it’s caused an energy revolution. We are the top natural gas producer in the world, and we’re one of the top producers of oil. That has largely been the result of kind of this fracking revolution.

I guess an easier way to explain it would be that instead of just going after these large reservoirs of oil or gas that may be beneath the surface, you actually go in and create more pressure and rock formations, which then causes some of the trapped oil and gas to come out. So, that’s largely what fracking is and does.

We found in Texas, and in North Dakota, in Pennsylvania, and my home state of Louisiana, in Ohio, we have found huge reserves of energy there that we’ve been able to produce, we’ve been able to help increase the affordability or decrease energy prices in the United States. We’re now exporting natural gas to 36 countries.

So instead of them being dependent upon Russia or others, they’re getting it from the United States. Economic activity, jobs here, we’re exporting oil, I believe it’s to a dozen countries around the world.

So look, the reality is, and this is where this administration doesn’t seem to understand, the reality is that even the Biden administration says there’s going to be a 50% increase in global energy demand over the next 28 years, 50%. It’s going to come from somewhere. Why not produce it here where we produce it cleaner and safer than anywhere else in the world, or at least in the top three, rather than letting Vladimir Putin produce it, letting Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran?

Look, I’m all for American jobs, those are the people we represent. I want American economic activity. I really don’t have a strong desire to go employ folks, Russians and Iranians and others and Venezuelans. It’s just not really what our priority should be at this point. So fracking’s been a revolution, it’s been great. There’s been a lot of, I think, misinformation.

One factoid from the National Energy Technology Labs, Russian natural gas is about 41% dirtier when delivered to Europe, as compared to fracked gas in the United States. So it’s actually lower greenhouse gas emissions, better for the environment. So, there’s really not an upside to leave it in the ground based on energy demand right now.

Allen: Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s fascinating. And I think we hear this term thrown around a lot, of energy independence. What does that actually mean, though, for America? What would that look like for America to no longer be importing any oil, gas from other countries? I mean, are there geopolitical advantages to importing oil from other countries or do you think there’s actually more advantages to not importing anything?

Graves: Well, we can take this conversation really far south and get into heavy crude, light crude, sweet crude, sour crude, and sort of some of the global markets there, but I’ll avoid that and not put people to sleep and just say that, look, having economic relationships with other countries is certainly something that I think is helpful if you create economic relationships. In many cases, not all, you develop better allegiances in other areas as well, maybe defense cooperation or what have you.

So I think that you can’t look too myopically at the United States, I think you have to do it from a lens of what’s best for the United States and for our citizens that we’re supposed to be prioritizing and representing.

But energy independence or energy dominance, this was actually achieved. We had net energy independence in the United States by some measure in 2019, but certainly in 2020 during the Trump administration.

What that means is that we may be importing some energy if we needed a heavier oil or what have you from another country, but we were exporting more of that volume than we were bringing in. So at the end of the day, we’re a net exporter of energy.

Let me say it one more time, Virginia, this is very important. There is going to be a huge surge in demand for natural gas, demand for oil, demand for renewable energy technologies, nuclear energy technologies, and all these things. Why not have that come out of the United States?

Employ Americans on the exploration and production side, the manufacturing, the pipelines, the exporting of it. Why not let that be Americans versus going out there and having these citizens of other countries that just take those dollars and then challenge us militarily or maybe our economic interest or allies around the world? It just doesn’t make sense.

Unfortunately, I mean, to go back to a term I used before, I think the energy price crisis that we’re experiencing right now is entirely a result of inexperienced policymakers making bad decisions based on emotion, not fact, and now Americans are paying the price for it.

Allen: Congressman, thank you so much for your time, we really, really appreciate it.

Graves: You bet. Thank you.

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