WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden sparked a firestorm in energy circles when he said in Tuesday's State of the Union address that the United States will need oil “for at least another decade.″
Republicans in the House chamber laughed in derision at Biden's off-the-cuff remark, which was not in his scripted speech. GOP lawmakers accused the Democratic president of refusing to accept reality and "living in a green hallucination,'' as Montana Sen. Steve Daines put it.
"President Biden implied tonight America would not produce oil beyond the next decade. If you believe that, you have missed a lot and live in a dream world. God help America,'' Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a tweet.
But environmentalists and some Democrats supported Biden, saying the U.S. needs a plan to wean itself off oil and other fossil fuels — the sooner, the better.
“I think the president is right,'' said Collin Rees, a senior campaigner for the green group Oil Change International. “We can't continue to pretend we're reducing (greenhouse gas) emissions without addressing oil production, and that means phasing out fossil fuels.''
“If we’re going to save our future, we need a transition away from dirty, expensive and deadly fossil fuels, and we need to be speeding up — not slowing down,” added Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Biden made the comment as he touted a landmark law to slow climate change. The law he signed last year — supported only by Democrats — authorizes hundreds of billions of dollars to boost renewable energy such as wind and solar power and help consumers buy electric vehicles and energy-efficient appliances.
The law is a key part of Biden's ambitious bid to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Most experts say the net-zero goal is unlikely to be fully achieved even under the most optimistic scenarios.
Phasing out oil within a decade is virtually impossible, said energy analyst Kevin Book.
“I think the White House may want to workshop the ad-libs” before Biden speaks, Book joked Wednesday, adding that no serious analyst believes oil can be completely phased out in a matter of years.
"We rely on oil and gas for 85 to 90 percent of transportation energy,'' he said. Electric vehicles, while growing in popularity, represent less than 6% of new U.S. car sales.
Even the U.S. government agrees that oil and gas will likely be needed for decades to come. The Energy Information Administration, a statistical and research arm of the Energy Department, projects that U.S. energy consumption will increase over the next 30 years as population and economic growth outpace energy efficiency gains.
Petroleum and natural gas are likely to remain the nation's largest energy sources through 2050, the EIA said in a report last year, even as renewable energy such as wind and solar power are the fastest growing.
The White House said Biden's comments were in line with statements he and other administration officials have made previously — namely that the U.S. is in the midst of an energy transition and will continue to need oil.
"Let’s be very clear that fossil fuels will remain in the mix of the energy system of the globe for years to come,'' Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a 2022 remark cited by the White House.
Ironically, Biden's comment came as he tried to reassure critics that he recognizes the need for continued oil production. “We’re still going to need oil and gas for a while,'' Biden said, before adding the 10-year time frame in a later, ad-libbed remark.
After GOP lawmakers laughed, Biden quickly responded: "And beyond that. We're going to need it.''
Biden's message to the oil industry — “Stay in business, we need you today" — was the right one, "but his units were off,'' Book said. "He was giving a 10-year life expectancy to 50-year assets.''
Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said Biden “could have used his #SOTU address to unite America. Instead, he has again criticized American businesses that employ millions of Americans, pay taxes and provide energy for the world. U.S. oil and natural gas producers, transporters and refiners deserve better.''
Ben Jealous, executive director of the Sierra Club, said expanding oil and gas production and extending the life-span of fossil fuel infrastructure such as refineries “would only exacerbate the climate crisis while further padding the profits of the very same companies President Biden rightfully decried'' in the State of the Union.
"What we need is doubling down on our investments to equitably transition off of the fuels of the past and to clean energy,'' Jealous said.