House Republicans have a worthy suggestion to protect Ukraine and increase the West’s leverage there: Deregulate American energy production and encourage oil and gas exports. The Department of Energy has been reluctant and slow to approve permits for shipping natural gas overseas, for instance, which the market demands from the U.S. for the first time. Crude-oil exports remain illegal. Energy production on federally owned lands has been dropping. A plan to address all of these issues and more can’t be expected to shift the balance of power in Eurasia — but its economic benefits should have compelled us to start in on them before they became a national-security imperative.
Allowing exports of oil and natural gas and otherwise trying to boost American energy production won’t change the landscape dramatically. Much of Europe will still be dependent on Russian natural gas no matter what we do. A lot of our increased natural-gas production and exports will not go to Europe but to Asia, where countries buy liquefied U.S. gas because they don’t have the cheaper option of overland pipelines. So a lot of Europe will still be skittish about its energy supplies from Russia. Ukraine will still be teetering.
But export permits and more U.S. energy production, which President Obama has done little to encourage, would help push down global prices. We can’t start guaranteeing gas supplies to Ukraine tomorrow, or even anytime soon, but expectations of a freer market in natural gas will reduce the exceptional political power Russia holds over Europe.
That’s partly why our Central and Eastern European allies are petitioning for such changes. It’s in their interests and they believe in the core U.S. values of free markets and free trade. Especially when it comes to energy, needless to say, our Russian foes don’t.
“Energy independence” is not quite as important as it sounds, as an economic or geopolitical matter. But many of the ways to get there — more U.S. oil-and-gas production, more U.S. refining capacity, more pipelines — are essential to our still-ailing economy. Freeing up exports at the same time could increase U.S. natural-gas prices slightly while pushing them down elsewhere in the world, but increased production from streamlined regulations should make energy cheaper for Americans in the long run. The American energy boom has been one of the few unalloyed economic successes since the financial crisis — a source of reliable growth, increasing competitiveness, and solid employment opportunities. Congress and the president ought to do all they can to encourage it.
The president’s resistance to these ideas over the last couple of years has shown that he prioritizes fealty to his left flank over the health of the economy. That the White House has again pushed back against these proposals over the past couple of weeks shows that its green priorities aren’t much moved by national-security concerns, either. The crisis in Ukraine could be an unhappy opportunity for a confluence of factors to force his hand. We’re not optimistic.