What Rising Oil Prices Can Teach Us About Climate Politics in the U.S.

For decades, U.S. presidents have reacted harshly to high oil prices, using whatever limited power they had to try to push them lower and then publicizing said efforts in hopes that they would win political points. Ronald Reagan took credit for oil prices falling during his tenure, crediting his deregulatory agenda. Bill Clinton released oil from the federal government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to try to stem prices, though retrospective analysis shows it had little effect. Trump tweeted at OPEC, the cartel of countries that controls 40% of the world’s oil production, as oil prices rose in early 2019 to demand more production that would drive lower prices. (They didn’t oblige him).

Over the course of this year, as oil prices have risen steadily, the Biden Administration has sought at every turn to counteract the trend. Biden has called on OPEC to raise production, asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate big oil companies for “potentially illegal conduct” related to high gas prices and, last week, announced a release of oil from the SPR.