Next week’s midterm election is shaping up to be a fossil-fueled fight.
According to pundits, the economy and inflation are the gooey center of this year’s election. And, as readers of Energy Weekly know, we can’t talk about these economic flashpoints without acknowledging the link to our current, fossil-based energy system.
Over the last few months, I’ve been watching in horror (though not disbelief) at incumbent energy interests’ dirty tricks to leverage this election to slow the transition to clean technologies.
Despite these oil companies ramping up operational strategies to transition to a low-carbon future, their political interests are as polluted as ever. The playbook is tried and true: gauge consumers, blame elected politicians for the high prices, use profits to elect oily politicians, then lobby those politicians to roll back action on climate.
Step 1: Rake in profits
As energy prices remain high, oil companies are raking in record profits and keeping production low. Exxon just reported $20 billion in profits from Q3, its most lucrative quarter ever, while Chevron reported only a slight dip from record hauls set last quarter. Shell also hit record profits in Q2.
In other words, instead charging consumers less, they’re using this moment to make profits and deflect blame.
This has led President Joe Biden to call out Big Oil for war profiteering in a speech this week, urging Congress to impose new taxes on oil companies if their industry doesn’t lower fuel prices or boost domestic output.
Step 2: Blame Biden for high energy costs
Gas prices are stubbornly high (although not at their peak), and the political powers that be want to lay blame at the feed of Biden and the Democrats. For the most part, it’s an effective strategy. Stickers are popping up at gas stations around the country calling out Biden, despite the president’s limited ability to influence gas prices.
Step 3: Lobby to roll back climate action
These same companies that are keeping prices high and lying about the cause are preparing for a Republican takeover of Congress — and through that, an opportunity to roll back clean energy and electrification programs. (To be clear, this lobbying often happens through trade associations, keeping oil companies a step removed.)
Among their policy targets if Republicans regain control of Congress: an energy plan to double down on fossil fuels and keeping natural gas in homes.
The irony, of course, is staying hooked on gas keeps households beholden to the volatile fossil fuel costs. Clean energy and electrification is key to locking in costs and keeping money local.
Vote for a better climate future
I understand the desire from voters to roll back time. The present seems increasingly unstable and volatile. I, too, would like to go back to a time when things seemed a little more simple — before a global pandemic ravaged our economy and trust in one another, before most people knew about "supply chains," before there was a thing called "smoke season," before an oily oligarch sparked an international energy crisis.
As we enter the age of climate chaos, however, our elected representatives will have diminished ability to protect voters from instability. Rather, we’re selecting the people and party who will be best at navigating these uncertain times and have the best strategy to uncouple our economy from the cost of fossil fuel.
So this Tuesday, vote. Preferably for candidates that want to address the climate crisis.