ICYMI: Barrasso Op-Ed: Learning From Europe's Energy Mistakes

August 1, 2022

By: U.S. Senator John Barrasso

July 30, 2022

Washington Examiner

President Joe Biden threatened this week to declare a climate “emergency.” It’s an excuse to bypass Congress and take more executive authority for himself. 

While the president may stop short of actually declaring an emergency, he has an unfortunate knack for creating them — the Afghanistan disaster, a wide-open southern border, the worst inflation in four decades, punishingly high energy prices , and a looming economic recession, to name a few. 

We can now add Biden’s “incredible transition” toward green energy to the list of self-inflicted emergencies. This administration entered office green with envy at the aggressive climate change policies Europe has pursued since the 1990s. But right now, our European allies are showing us the dangers of going all in on such an extreme energy agenda. 

For decades, European governments have undermined the production of traditional energy resources. They’ve pushed to replace them with more expensive and unreliable alternative sources of energy. What’s more, the closing of coal and nuclear plants in places such as Germany has forced the European Union to become more dependent on Russia for coal, oil, and natural gas. 

The results have been as devastating as they were predictable. The continent is in the midst of an energy crisis much worse than the one we’re experiencing here. European consumers are suffering under some of the highest energy prices in the world. 

The overreliance on Russian natural gas, which supplies 40% of Europe’s needs, also means that their supply is less secure . France recently ordered all air-conditioned stores to keep their doors shut at night to save energy and has asked the public to start turning their WiFi routers and TVs off while they’re away. In Germany, the situation is so dire that Deutsche Bank recently warned the country's residents that they may have to heat their homes with firewood this winter. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has exposed Europe’s energy vulnerabilities for all to see. Even if the European Union wanted to cut off Russia’s imports altogether, it couldn’t — because doing so would tip Europe into a deep recession. 

Russia knows this and is sorely testing Europe’s resolve to support Ukraine. Over the past few months, Putin has substantially lowered the amount of natural gas Russia has sent to Europe. Shipments to Poland and Bulgaria, both strong supporters of Ukraine, have been cut off completely. 

Just recently, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, one of the main outlets for Russian natural gas to Europe, went down for maintenance. It was running at only 40% capacity before the shutdown. Now that deliveries have restarted, it’s running at a meager 20% capacity. This is not nearly enough for Europe’s winter needs. Had the Trump administration not sanctioned the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Europe’s dependence on Putin would be even greater. 

As Russia reduces shipments (and with the prospect of further reductions), our allies are scrambling for energy supplies elsewhere. Serious economic damage is inevitable. European energy prices have already begun to explode. 

Natural gas is a key component of nitrogen fertilizer. As a result, European food prices are skyrocketing too. 

Putin’s goal is to cause so much pain in Europe that governments there will pressure Ukraine into cutting a bad deal with Russia. We cannot let him succeed. 

These dangerous developments demonstrate the value of an energy-dominant America in global affairs. 

Producing more U.S. natural gas is critical to relieve some of the upward price pressure both for American families and our European allies. This will require the continued build-out of liquefied natural gas facilities. But that is not enough. We also need a robust network of pipelines to accommodate this new demand. That will require a new approach from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has frustrated such development. 

Even if the war ended tomorrow, Europe will never go back to using Russian gas at pre-invasion levels. The United States will need to be there to help replace Russian energy with safe, reliable, and affordable American energy. 

Just as important, we should learn from Europe’s experience. We see what happens when countries block traditional energy, shut down reliable generation, rush to adopt intermittent sources, and rely on foreign despots. It is a recipe for disaster. But that is just what the president is trying to do. Biden seems determined to create an energy emergency. 

Looking at the nightmare unfolding in Europe, we cannot say we have not been warned. 

John Barrasso is a Republican senator from Wyoming and the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.