As the Russian invasion of Ukraine began last week, American conservatives descending on Florida for 2022’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) delivered a mixed message about the conflict. Many speakers seemed undecided on whether to quietly support Russian President Vladimir Putin or fall back on Cold War conservative ideologies. Others, like Charlie Kirk, CPAC favorite and founder of youth conservative organization Turning Point USA, simply urged attendees to forget about “a dispute 5,000 miles away in cities we can’t pronounce,” and focus instead on “how the cartels are deliberately trying to infiltrate our country.”
But one thing many speakers could agree on was that the war showed the need for America to push for expanded coal mining and oil and gas drilling. It was a line that the American Petroleum Institute had been pushing since the first day of the invasion, when it said in a blog post that “right now, the most important move President Biden can make is to signal that America is positioned to provide stability and supply amid any disruption of international energy markets — and can do so without increasing costs at home.”
Speakers at CPAC, however, went beyond simply using the war as an excuse to call for more drilling. They also blamed Biden’s stance on coal, oil, and gas for encouraging this war.
“[Biden] green lights Putin’s pipeline and shuts down American pipelines,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) said. “Is it any wonder that Vladimir Putin feels emboldened to do whatever the heck he wants to do?”
Former deputy national security advisor under President Trump, K.T. McFarland expanded on the argument in a panel titled “War through Weakness, Elections Matter.”
“If oil is at $40 a barrel, which it was when President Trump left office, the Russians are broke; they can’t afford to go to war,” she said. The war was only possible due to the current high price of oil, which would go down if America drilled more, McFarland argued.
“We could replace Russia, we could replace other countries in the world as the world’s dominant energy supplier,” she said. “It would also drive the price of oil down. […] The Russians had to have high oil and natural gas prices to fund everything else. And we knew that if they didn’t have it, they would never play on the world stage.”
Richard Grenell, Trump’s former acting director of national intelligence, similarly blamed Biden for fueling the war in Ukraine. Grenell took the stage Friday between discussions of cancel culture and Brexiter Nigel Farage, to blame the Biden administration for allowing the continued construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, thereby giving Putin power over Europe.
“The symbolic core of the growing turmoil in Europe has always been energy, and specifically the Nord Stream 2 pipeline,” Grenell said. “What it really is, is a pipeline of influence.”
Grenell blamed Biden and Democratic senators for dropping sanctions on Nord Stream 2 that former President Trump put into place. But he failed to mention that by the time Trump signed the sanctions, the pipeline was already mostly finished, and neither Germany nor the United States has much control over its construction. He also failed to note that Biden did place new sanctions on the company building it last month.
On a panel called “Drill Dummy Drill,” moderated by former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer, Harriet Hageman, a Wyoming Republican running to replace Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), pushed the idea that a Europe that relies on Russian energy is an unstable one.
“Look at what is playing out right now in the Ukraine with Russia. What is the Europe you want?” she asked, adding that the European Union is “scared to death to act because they are dependent upon Russia for their energy. And that’s what has made for a very dangerous world.”
“Our policies with this administration and the Obama administration, which is also an absolute disaster in this area […] have empowered the thugs of the world and we have emasculated the countries that actually believe in freedom and prosperity,” she said.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the other member of the “Drill Dummy Drill” planel, complained that the United States was putting “sanctions” (that is, environmental regulations) on domestic drilling but not on Russia.
“So we look out there, we see Russia, we see them producing, and we wonder what our own federal government is actually putting sanctions on states like Wyoming and Alaska,” he said.
In an Orwellian twist, Dunleavy and Hageman argued that preventing Russian aggression and prominence on the world stage isn’t the only reason the United States needs to drill and export more fossil fuels. We also need to drill for the environment.
“The irony is when you push this stuff overseas you actually destroy the environment at an accelerated rate,” Dunleavy said.
He and Hageman argued that fossil fuel extraction in Russia is considerably dirtier than in the United States, so drilling in America was truly the best for the environment overall. And Hageman told the audience that even thinking about the environment is a “luxury.”
“It is our prosperity that allows us the luxury of protecting our environment,” Hageman said. If we don’t drill for more oil and gas, she warned, “we’re not going to have the same prosperity to be able to protect the environment the way that we do.”