Sunday, October 17, 2021

For Joe Biden, A Do-Over on Energy Policies

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Vice President Joe Biden still wears scruffy suits and

still wisecracks like a senator, but things have changed for the

Biden of old.

It was 2006, and then-Senator Biden — now Barack Obama’s

vice president — was on the front lines of

political science. Sen. Biden was arguing, with Vice President

George W. Bush, that the auto industry could be saved through tax

incentives that would incentivize consumers to buy alternative-fuel cars.

Opponents dismissed Mr. Biden as a gloom-and-doom advocate who

wished to “buy new paint” and “fill the gas tank” of the troubled auto

industry.

Mr. Biden, a physician and biochemist with 15 years of research

experience as a longtime Delaware congressman, seized upon two

intriguing facts that strengthened his position. First, he said,

fracking would have a limited effect on the U.S. economy, because oil and

gas exports still would be booming — up 15 percent in 2010.

Second, gas-and-oil production would begin to plateau, and would

never revert to the skyrocketing levels it hit at the height of the

energy crisis of the 1970s.

Still, there were no guarantees. For an entire decade, Mr.

Biden argued, Mr. Bush refused to consider these facts, with disastrous

consequences. The oil and gas industry opposed the idea of the

tax credits. So did the United Auto Workers. So did the United

States Chamber of Commerce. The manufacturers’ association.

Worse, the White House, the U.S. automakers and the global

oil and gas companies all argued that ethanol could hold off the

breakdown of the gasoline pipeline system in the United States.

There were some exemptions to the ethanol exemption, but nothing

that would stop higher gasoline blends. This would have put the

death of the auto industry at the mercy of politics.

What do those facts mean? Experts disagree.

Despite their success in the executive branch, experts are

busily interpreting what happened over the last 10 years.

Mr. Biden’s critics say that gas prices never began to

plunge before 2014, as Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden had predicted. The

inevitable rise in production, they argue, slowed, not stopped.

That raises the question: If the policies set by Joe Biden and his

running mate turned out to be wrong, what other policies did Mr.

Obama and Mr. Biden set that proved right? We’ll have to wait and see.

There are still only 12 months until the presidential election.

Here, Mr. Biden’s critics and supporters do agree on one point: They

agree that Mr. Biden’s brand of science and experience can do

better than Mr. Trump’s. And if Mr. Biden wins the presidency, he will

get to pick his chief economic adviser: Larry Kudlow, who runs the

pharmaceutical industry lobbying group PhRMA, and who advised President

Bush on energy policy.

Could the policies that Mr. Biden set be right? Unlikely. But the

world has changed. And we’re lucky to have Vice President Biden

carrying the torch.

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