Algae and High Gasoline Prices

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If you have managed to avoid record-high gasoline prices by using algae fuel instead, you have former President Barack Obama to thank. If not, you can give him and his vice president, Joe Biden, a share of the blame for the current pain at the pump.

In a 2012 speech on energy (which must be seen to be believed), President Obama made a spirited pitch for algae fuel and especially for accompanying federally funded research. “We could replace up to 17 percent of the oil we import for transportation with this fuel that we can grow right here in the United States,” he said, adding that doing so would enhance energy security, lower costs, and create jobs.

Ten years and many millions of tax dollars later, algae fuel is still a green dream, even with today’s high gasoline prices.

In fairness, President George W. Bush also pushed unrealistic alternatives like cellulosic biofuels, and  Obama’s algae fuel program was encouraged under the Renewable Fuel Standard signed into law a few years earlier by Bush.

But unlike Bush, Obama was also trying to shut out petroleum-related projects. This included years of stonewalling on the required federal approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project that could deliver up to 830,000 barrels of Canadian oil per day to U.S. refiners. President Donald Trump finally approved the project in 2019, but Biden reversed this decision on his first day in office, in the name of fighting climate change.

Biden now insists, with his usual “c’mon man” fervor, that killing off Keystone XL has no current impact on gasoline supplies and prices since the pipeline would have taken two more years to complete. That’s debatable, but it is worth remembering that Obama could have greenlighted Keystone XL back when he was in office, especially after his administration’s extensive 2011 Environmental Impact Statement concluded that the project to poses minimal environmental risk, but he refused to do so.

The same is true for oil leasing on federal lands and offshore areas. Obama’s eight-year long go-slow approach to leasing (sped up under Trump but now slower under Biden) has meant that onshore and offshore wells that likely would be pumping today were stopped back then. In a tight market like we have right now, even a few percent more output can make a real difference. And in dangerous times, every barrel that isn’t controlled by America’s adversaries has extra worth.

Time and again, Biden has taken Obama’s dislike of domestic oil to a new level. And now, amid all those missed opportunities and pain at the pump, Biden has revived federal spending on algae. Biden deserves the criticism he is getting for his energy policy, but don’t forget that it all started with his algae-loving mentor.