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Opinion: U.S. fossil fuels and climate change action don’t have to clash

Support American business, promote good climate policy and avoid energy dependence on other countries — we can have it all

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An oil rig drills a well near Roosevelt on Sunday, March 13, 2022.

An oil rig drills a well near Roosevelt on Sunday, March 13, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

President Joe Biden’s executive order forcing the Department of the Interior to reconsider all oil and gas leases on public land has now successfully blocked the development of 6,000 new oil and natural gas wells in the Uintah Basin. The timing of this decision was more than a little ironic as only a few weeks earlier, news had broken that the Biden administration was looking to negotiate with communist dictator Nicolás Maduro to develop a dilapidated oil field in Venezuela. This unfortunate chain of events makes it clear — if it wasn’t clear already — that despite the worldwide need for more fossil fuels, Democrats’ climate policy will continue to favor foreign oil and gas while tightening its regulatory chokehold on one of the Uintah Basin’s largest industries.

Democrats’ climate regulations and mandates, designed to force a nationwide “transition” away from fossil fuels, would be bad enough for the rest of Utah, but for the Basin in particular, the consequences of shutting down oil, gas and coal production are catastrophic. But by proactively pushing our own climate agenda, Republicans can keep American fossil fuels in the game, even in an era of rapid decarbonization. 

I’ve seen this in my work as Western Region chair of the Young Republican National Federation. As a younger generation of Americans comes to power, environmental issues are becoming important to politicians on both sides of the aisle. From my view in Salt Lake and Washington, D.C., I can report that some sort of national climate plan is inevitable. We can no longer operate without a strategy of our own. 

Pushing back against Democrats on climate will require us to play offense. We can do that in a way that’s good for business and good for oil and natural gas.

We already have a few examples of what this might look like. I’ve been encouraged by the work of Utah’s own Rep. John Curtis, who has been aggressively pursuing this issue in Washington. His approach has been to refocus the climate conversation on global emissions rather than on specific American industries. This is something that Democrats have no answer to, which is a significant blind spot that fails to address 85% of global emissions. It requires investing in the American economy, American energy and, yes, American fossil fuels. 

Fossil fuel production can go hand-in-hand with an emissions reduction plan if we simply hold foreign producers to the same carbon emissions standards as any U.S. company. A climate strategy along these lines would be a political winner for Republicans, as it would force Democrats to address emissions abroad, and it would yield major dividends for Utah. It could not only preserve our oil and gas industry; it could make it more profitable. 

This is possible because, on average, U.S. oil and gas are already cleaner. American companies have made huge strides in developing cleaner technologies — including innovations like carbon capture happening right here in Utah. When it comes to sustainability, we’re way ahead of the game. Were we to hold producers in other countries to the same environmental standards as U.S. companies (for example, via a pollution import fee), American energy companies would enjoy a clear advantage.

This approach benefits national security, as well. With energy, as in all things, the United States faces formidable foes overseas who want to replace us as the most dominant player on the international stage. Bad actors like Russia and China threaten what we cherish in America and pose a serious danger to our allies around the world. Natural resource extraction is a central way they maintain power. They aren’t afraid of developing their fossil fuel resources, and they aren’t concerned about the planet. When we invest in domestic energy, our allies become less dependent on our enemies. This is especially relevant as European economies reel from their dependency on Russian natural gas

With all this at stake, Republicans should not sit on the sidelines. China’s power is expanding, and we can stop it. Russian energy has brought Europe to its knees, and we can thwart Putin. If we act decisively, Americans will look back on this era as a turning point, as the time when America reclaimed its role as a leader in fossil fuel exports and, in the process, helped address the global problem of climate change.

Grayson Massey is a fifth-generation Utahn, raised in the Uintah Basin. He currently serves as Western Region vice chair for the Young Republican National Federation.