Climate scientists have spent the last half-century imploring western leaders to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels to little avail. But, ultimately, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting disruptions in energy supply chains forced European nations to address their dependence on oil and gas. In three months, war has achieved what 50 years of advocacy did not: REPowerEU, an ambitious plan for European energy security rooted in decarbonization.
Currently, 70% of Europe’s energy supply comes from fossil resources. The European Union imports more than 80% of its natural gas, with 45% coming from Russia. Russia also supplied 27% of the EU’s oil and 46% of its coal imports. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s dependency on Russian imports hindered its ability to enforce sanctions despite Ukraine’s pleas for support. European payments for Russian oil and gas have continued to fuel the conflict, earning Putin’s regime €1 billion a day.
Hastening the transition to clean energy is no longer simply a climate priority but a national security imperative. And Europe is clueing the United States into what an achievable and responsible path to energy security looks like.
EUROPE’S AMBITIOUS ENERGY PROGRAM
On May 31, 2022, the EU announced it will ban 90% of Russian oil imports by the end of this year. The EU’s new REPowerEU plan is driving this strategy, a comprehensive set of reforms aimed at ending European fossil imports from Russia no later than 2027. The plan is built around three distinct but related lines of effort: doubling down on energy efficiency, greater electrification of energy demand, and accelerating the deployment of clean energy resources, from solar and wind to biogas and green hydrogen. A recent analysis by Ember and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air shows how REPowerEU policies will drive decarbonization even faster than the bloc’s current climate measures, which are among the most ambitious in the world.
Clean energy is now a national security imperative. And Europe is clueing the United States into what an achievable and responsible path to energy security looks like.
While Europe’s immediate challenge may be weaning itself off Russian energy imports, REPowerEU recognizes that true energy security hinges on reducing overall dependence on fossil fuels. The United States’ national experience amid global energy market disruptions re-enforces this point. The United States imports relatively little Russian oil or gas and has been the world’s leader in natural gas and crude oil production since 2018, accounting for 15% of global oil output, followed by Russia (13%) and Saudi Arabia (12%). However, our considerable domestic production has not shielded us from the turmoil of global oil and gas markets.
Gas prices across the United States are currently soaring to record highs. Most Americans are paying more than $5 per gallon at the pump, with the expectation of steeper price hikes throughout the summer. When it comes to electricity bills, surging global demand for US natural gas has left Americans paying as much as 51% to 83% more than last year. The lesson is clear: only by building a cleaner, more flexible, and diversified energy system can we guarantee our long-term energy and economic security.
LEARNING FROM EUROPE’S ENERGY BLUEPRINT
While the Supreme Court recently ruled to limit the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions from fossil-fueled power plants, there are several ways Congress and the Biden administration can work together to promote US energy security while also creating jobs, protecting American consumers, and meeting the moment in the global fight against climate change.
First, Congress could swiftly authorize $550 billion in job-creating clean energy funding that has been held up in the Senate for months. These measures alone would save American families $500 a year on their annual energy bills and trim US oil expenditures by 24% by the end of the decade. In addition, reducing domestic demand for natural gas would allow more exports to flow to Europe, easing pressure on global gas markets and strengthening our ability to confront petro-aggression. While the House passed these provisions last year, every day of delay in the Senate means more lost opportunities for Americans and our allies abroad.
Another critical tool is the Defense Production Act. The act allows the government to directly support the production and purchase of materials vital to US national defense in emergency situations. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have used the Defense Production Act to address major supply chain challenges impacting public well-being, ranging from the production of personal protective equipment and COVID vaccines at the height of the pandemic to subsidizing the production of infant formula during the recent shortage.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden issued a series of presidential directives instructing the Department of Energy to use the Defense Protection Act to boost domestic manufacturing and deployment of solar equipment, green hydrogen, heat pumps, improved grid infrastructure, and weatherization materials. This follows an earlier action to strengthen and secure critical mineral supply chains, another important component of the clean energy solution set.
However, current funding levels related to the Defense Protection Act are not keeping pace with the compounding challenges facing critical industries and supply chains. Moreover, a deepening global food security crisis is poised to make matters worse. With that in mind, Congress should approve additional resources to support the president’s plan. In April 2022, Representatives Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.), and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) introduced the Energy Security and Independence Act of 2022. If enacted, this legislation would authorize $100 billion in long-term funding for the Defense Protection Act to catalyze clean energy manufacturing, along with $30 billion for home weatherization and $10 billion for heat pump deployment. In the near-term, passing the $100 million for Defense Production Act clean energy activities included in the recently released House energy and water appropriations bill would be a positive first step.
Lastly, the administration should ensure that the funds from last year’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act kickstart projects that will deliver a flexible, resilient, and climate-compatible energy future. The infrastructure act included a number of targeted provisions that could have a significant impact: $8 billion for hydrogen hubs, $18.9 billion to support transportation electrification, and $5.5 billion for grid modernization to name a few. However, these are large, complex initiatives to administer, from both a structural and technical perspective. Federal agencies and their implementing partners need to work together to develop effective processes and criteria for channeling these funds to investable projects.
CALLING FOR ACTION
Taken together, these three cost-effective approaches will bolster our energy security and strike a blow against the most pressing threat facing American families: climate change. While these upfront investments are not insignificant, they will add hundreds of thousands of jobs to the economy, and they pale in comparison to the cost of inaction.
Heatwaves are already scorching the United States, placing 120 million Americans under advisories and forcing school closures. Flooding has closed all of Yellowstone Park, and droughts and wildfires continue to ravage California and the Southwest. Last year, more than 40% of the US population lived in counties that were declared federal disaster areas due to extreme weather, and the cost of storm damage is expected to rise precipitously. White House estimates predict climate change will cost taxpayers $2 trillion annually by 2100. Globally, fossil fuel emissions are already a driver of irregular migration, food and water scarcity, internal conflict, and contribute to the death of nine million people a year, disproportionately in places least responsible for their creation.
The United States is not facing the same direct threat of supply disruptions as Europe is due to their direct reliance on Russian imports. However, we should embrace a strategy for achieving fossil fuel independence with the same urgency. The solutions are available, and RePowerEU is a worthy blueprint for what can be achieved with enough political will. A secure future is one that requires bold and ambitious investments in clean energy today.
Alex Stapleton is the Senior Climate Policy Advisor at Foreign Policy for America, where he leads the organization’s work to advance a more climate-forward foreign policy agenda.
Hanna Homestead is a Policy Associate at the Center for International Policy where she researches the intersections of climate change, corruption, and security assistance in US foreign policy.