Biden Invokes Defense Production Act to Promote Oil Alternatives

Memoranda call for insulation, electrification, and heatpumpification.

Joe Biden on earth Day
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Earth Day.

Official White House Photo by Chandler West

Early in the Ukraine war, we made the case that we need to electrify, heatpumpify, and insulate our way out of the current crises suggesting that reducing demand for fossil fuels was the best way to deal with Europe's dependence on Russian oil and gas and the high prices in North America. A few days later, author, activist, and energizer bunny Bill McKibben called for heat pumps for peace and freedom, saying, "We’re under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII."

Now U.S. President Joe Biden is mobilizing as they did for the Korean War with the Defense Production Act of 1950, which gives the president "a broad set of authorities to influence domestic industry in the interest of national defense." McKibben is cheering, and actually taking some credit for the Memorandum on Electric Heat Pumps where the president says, "Ensuring a robust, resilient, and sustainable domestic industrial base to meet the requirements of the clean energy economy is essential to our national security, a resilient energy sector, and the preservation of domestic critical infrastructure."

McKibben writes that it started with his newsletter and their campaign and was picked up by Rewiring America, who turned it into their Electrify for Peace Policy Plan.

"Between you all, the effort paid off. Biden’s order isn’t precisely what we’d called for, since the heat pumps are destined for U.S. homes instead of European ones—but that may well be more politically palatable, and in any event, as we’ve pointed out over and over, oil is a global market. If we can suppress demand here by giving people efficient technology, it will help drive down the windfall that rising oil prices have provided Putin."

But the Presidential Determinations and Memoranda don't end with heat pumps or what we have called heatpumpification. There is another on insulation, with Biden saying: "I find that action to expand the domestic production capability for insulation is necessary to avert an industrial resource or critical technology item shortfall that would severely impair national defense capability."

There are others on transformers and electrical power grid components, and solar panels and components. The president has also waived duties on imported solar cells and modules from Asia, noting, "Roughly half of the domestic deployment of solar modules that had been anticipated over the next year is currently in jeopardy as a result of insufficient supply. Across the country, solar projects are being postponed or canceled."

The Rewiring America people are thrilled, with CEO Ari Matusiak calling it "a win-win-win move for America." It creates jobs, saves money, and third: "This action is a key tool in our effort to crush fossil fuel demand here at home, thereby freeing ourselves from the machinations of tyrants like Putin. 42 percent of energy-related emissions come from the home. Oil heating in the Northeast alone requires 71 million barrels of oil per year. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels will make our homes more comfortable, affordable and healthy."

Of course, Biden is attacking on all fronts and is also demanding that the fossil fuel industries pump it up. “We are on a war footing,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told oil executives at a conference. “We need oil and gas production to rise.”

But invoking the Defense Production Act to promote insulation, heatpumpification, and electrification sounds like it was written for Treehugger. That "life during wartime" spirit might make a difference too.

As Treehugger contributor Sami Grover noted:

"If the 'spirit of the Blitz' tales have any truth to them, then a coordinated effort to encourage and support shifts in behavior—as long as the effort is fairly distributed—can be a great way to build a common cause, and maybe even fond memories too."

McKibben concludes: "This single measure obviously doesn’t solve our problems, in Russia or in the atmosphere. But it’s a hopeful sign that we can still get something done." And that something is that there are alternatives to just pumping more oil.

As I wrote in the earlier post: "We are having both an energy crisis and a carbon crisis. Pumping more gas may solve the former but not the latter. Electrifying, heatpumpifying, insulating, and bicycling solve both. And if we get mobilizing, we could do this sooner rather than later."

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  1. McKibben, Bill. "Enormous Thanks to All Who Helped." The Crucial Years, 6 Jun. 2022.