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In Texas to tout green tech, Biden’s energy secretary ends up fielding oil and gas questions

Four people talk in a classroom with electrical training models mounted on the wall.
Christopher Connelly
/
KERA News
Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Department of Energy secretary, toured the training classrooms at at IBEW Local 20 in Grand Prairie with U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey and state Senator Nathan Johnson on Friday. The union's assistant business manager Karsten Frentup said the union works with local employers to run the training program.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm came to North Texas to highlight its efforts to build a greener economy and avert more catastrophic consequences of climate change, but she was mostly asked about the price of gas at the pump.

The price of gas was clearly on the minds of many reporters at press events in Carrollton and Grand Prairie. The average price for a gallon of gas hit $5 nationally for the first time ever, according to AAA.

That pinch at the pump is the result of constrained supply, Granholm said: Oil companies cut refining capacity during the pandemic, and that capacity never fully picked back up. Add in sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine, which has cut Russian oil production by about 850,000 barrels a day.

But it’s not just supply and demand, Granholm said: The industry’s been raking in billions of dollars in profits this year and passing profits onto shareholders. In the first three months of 2022, major oil companies saw double-digit increases in earnings compared to the last three months of 2021.

For Shell, it was the best quarterly profits on record.

“If they had only…taken half [of their profits] to invest in production, we would have hundreds more shale wells and hundreds of thousands of more barrels on the market today,” Granholm said.

President Biden is set to meet executives from major oil companies next week. In a letter, he told them it is “not acceptable” that oil companies are “worsening” the economic pain of Americans by pocketing “historically high profit margins."

Meanwhile, the Biden Administration has been pulling out all the stops to increase the amount of oil on the market.

It’s released oil from the national Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And it’s approved so many drilling permits on public lands — 34% more Biden’s first year than in Trump’s, in fact, so much so that now environmental groups are suing to block some of those newly approved wells on public lands.

On her trip to Texas, Granholm addressed the tension between the president’s efforts to get more oil and gas out of the ground and the quickly closing window to cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to head off climate catastrophe.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its most recent report that climate change is “widespread, rapid, and intensifying, and some trends are now irreversible,” but that with massive cuts to carbon pollution and other greenhouse gasses over the next 20 years, global temperatures could stabilize.

Granholm said Biden “believes we have to have more energy,” and is accelerating the investment, development and deployment of clean energy while working to drive more oil and gas development to cut energy prices for consumers in the short term.

Greener future

Granholm’s trip was intended to focus attention the administration’s efforts to build a greener economy.

The secretary visited the Carrolton research and development lab for heater and air conditioner maker Lennox International.

The Richardson-headquartered company’s engineers have been working on better heat pumps that could replace fossil fuel-dependent furnaces and water heaters in homes. Specifically, Lennox was the first company to cross the line on a joint U.S.-Canadian challenge to make heat pumps that work well in colder climates.

“Why do we want people to have heat pumps? Well, they’re extremely efficient, and at a time when people are paying high fuel costs, we want to make sure people have access to technology that reduces…their utility bills,” she said.

Heat pumps can cut energy bills by 60%, she said, which is good for consumers. And since about 16% of the nation’s energy goes to heating and cooling buildings, so heat pumps may end up being a not-insignificant part of the recipe for curtailing fossil fuel dependence.

Granholm’s second stop in North Texas was at a local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall in Grand Prairie, where she took a tour of the union’s training facility for future electricians who’ll be needed to electrify the nation’s homes and build the renewable energy infrastructure to support them.

Even though the Biden Administration’s signature climate bill died amid resistance from 48 Republicans and two Democrats in the Senate, Granholm suggested Americans are already seeing climate change’s impact. As she spoke, more than 120 million Americans were living under heat advisories, and Yellowstone National Park was closed because of historic flooding.

“We are seeing these huge events happen that are supposed to be 100-, 200-year events that are happening every year. Last year, as a nation, we had to pay $150 billion to clean up after these extreme weather events,” she said.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at cconnelly@kera.org.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.