WASHINGTON — On Friday, March 13, Donald Trump announced he would direct the Department of Energy (DOE) to purchase millions of barrels of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). This effectively means the DOE will take roughly 80 million barrels of oil off the market. At current prices, the total cost could exceed $2.6 billion in public funds. By comparison, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act introduced in the House of Representatives today details at least $1.68 billion in support for public health provisions and working families.
In response, Greenpeace USA Senior Climate Campaigner John Noël said:
“Trump’s response to a global pandemic is to put billionaires and corporate polluters ahead of American families. There’s no evidence that this handout would protect jobs, pensions, benefits, or ease the hardships facing fossil fuel workers or communities confronting the COVID-19 outbreak right now. It’s nothing more than a gift to the industry that created the climate crisis.
“This is the time to invest in a Green New Deal and chart a new course for a world beyond fossil fuels. That’s how we can truly protect workers from the kind of economic uncertainty we’ve already seen this week, ensure long-term prosperity for communities, and give ourselves a chance at navigating out of two crises at once.”
The decision comes days after Trump officials floated a broader federal bailout for fossil fuel companies hit by tanking oil prices. Friday’s handout likely does not need Congressional approval, but Congress could intervene to stop this and further measures — such as lowering royalty rates for oil and gas production on federal lands or giving out low-interest loans to oil and gas companies. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposed legislation today that would bar the Trump administration from using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to give handouts to the oil industry.
“Based on the price of oil, I’ve also instructed the Secretary of Energy to purchase at a very good price large quantities of crude oil for storage in the U.S. strategic reserve,” Trump announced during a White House press conference—surrounded by CEOs from major corporations, including Walmart, CVS, and Target—in which he also declared an official national emergency in order to combat the outbreak of the coronavirus.
“With this move, Trump has rolled out a plan to prop up U.S. oil companies before he has even bothered to guarantee paid sick leave for US workers who are going to be on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis for weeks to come.”
—Alex Doukas, Oil Change International
“We’re going to fill it right up to the top,” said of the SPR, but critics were quick to point out that move has everything to do with helping his wealthy friends and cronies in the fossil fuel industry, and nothing to do with helping average people now under threat from the spreading pandemic.
“Trump has once again put the interests of oil and gas executives ahead of the interests of people and communities,” said Alex Doukas of Oil Change International. “With this move, Trump has rolled out a plan to prop up U.S. oil companies before he has even bothered to guarantee paid sick leave for US workers who are going to be on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis for weeks to come.”
The news came Friday as additional school closures were announced for states nationwide, grocery store shelves were wiped clean, and worry continues to spread about just how extensive the outbreak will become.
Greenpeace warned that the total cost of the oil purchase “could exceed $2.6 billion in public funds,” a stark comparison when put next to the proposal put forth by House Democrats just hours earlier. Introducing the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act“(pdf), which calls for an estimated $1.7 billion aimed at helping working families and children to weather the public health crisis, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “The American people expect and deserve a coordinated, science-based and whole-of-government response to keep them and their loved ones safe: a response that puts families first to stimulate the economy.”
By putting his adminstration’s emphasis on bailing out the oil industry, John Noël, a senior climate campaigner for Greenpeace USA, said the president is doing the opposite of putting people first.
“Trump’s response to a global pandemic is to put billionaires and corporate polluters ahead of American families. There’s no evidence that this handout would protect jobs, pensions, benefits, or ease the hardships facing fossil fuel workers or communities confronting the COVID-19 outbreak right now. It’s nothing more than a gift to the industry that created the climate crisis.”
Doukas agreed, calling it “wildly inappropriate” for Trump “to abuse the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a tool to prop up the oil and gas industry at a time when the White House should be focusing on how to help everyday people in the US.”
Where is the relief for workers grappling with caring for their families, retail workers risking exposure every day, families grappling with debt and mounting bills while their livelihoods are put at risk?” he asked. “No, today President Trump focused on propping up polluting industries and trotting out CEOs to sell their wares.”
As CNBC reported, following Trump’s late-day announcement, “crude futures jumped 5%” in the last hour of market trading.
* This article was automatically syndicated and expanded from Common Dreams.