High gasoline prices were top of mind for many voters across the country, with Republicans weighing in on the issue and mostly blaming Democrats and President Joe Biden.
In the second and final US Senate debate in Wisconsin, Republican US Senator Ron Johnson proposed a solution to pump prices and 40-year-high inflation:
“You have to grow our economy but stop deficit spending and be independent,” he said. “Stop the war on fossil fuels.”
The call for energy independence has been made by Republicans and Democrats alike. But Johnson has spoken out about this push while dismissing the Biden Administration’s investment in clean energy.
That reminds us of the claim we wanted to get to — one from a July 14 blog post about gas prices on Johnson’s website: “We finally got energy independence, just like we got our border control, under the Trump administration. President Biden has destroyed both of those achievements.”
We will focus here on the claim about energy independence.
Did the US gain energy independence under Donald Trump and lose that status under Biden?
Measures of energy independence
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased oil supply worldwide. Recently, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, led by Russia and Saudi Arabia, cut oil production in a move expected to send gas prices higher.
To consider Johnson’s claim, let’s begin by defining what independence of power means. There are many ways to look at it.
First, many voters may take energy independence to mean that the United States does not export any oil. But that has not been true for at least seventy years. It could mean that the US is not exporting any energy, which is not the case either.
A common metric for energy independence is whether a country exports more of its total energy than it imports.
In Johnson’s case, the senator was referring to something very narrow – not total energy, but exports of crude oil and petroleum products exceeding imports of crude oil and petroleum products.
When we asked for backup, his office pointed to data from the US Energy Information Administration showing that the US actually became an exporter of oil and petroleum products at the end of 2019 under then-President Donald Trump.
But the data also shows that the US has maintained its export status – a metric that Johnson used to consider energy independence – during the Biden administration in 2021, although it is much lower than it was in 2020.
(During 2020 and 2021, the US fluctuated between importing crude oil and petroleum products and exporting crude oil and petroleum products but ended both years with exports.)
In the first seven months of 2022, according to the latest Energy Information Administration data, the country has continued this export trend.
So, the US has not “discarded” that position under Biden.
Johnson’s office has indicated in the Energy Information Administration from February 2022 that the country will return to importation by the end of the year. But the latest data suggests that hasn’t happened so far.
Gregory Nemet, a professor at the University of Wisconsin La Follette School of Public Affairs who researches energy and public policy, noted that the figures cited by Johnson include both crude oil and refined products such as gasoline and do not include other energy sources.
Putting those two things together to establish energy independence, he said, is not very logical because refined products are converted from crude oil.
“It’s just a double count,” Nemet said. “For example, if we import oil from Canada and refine it into gasoline and sell the gasoline to Mexico, the number would be net zero. It’s not something people care about when they want to be independent.”
If you think about just crude oil, Nemet explained, the US has been a net importer for decades. In 2020, for example, the country imported 2.67 million barrels of crude oil per day. In 2021, that number was 3.13 million barrels per day.
Finally, if we consider all energy metrics – including sources such as electricity, oil, coal and natural gas – the US has been a net exporter of energy since 2019.
Johnson said “We finally got the independence of the powers … under the Trump administration. President Biden destroyed it.”
By some measures, this is wrong – the US has relied on oil exports for decades and continues to do so. By choosing a more narrow metric, Johnson cites the exact number: Late in the Trump administration, the US began exporting more crude oil and petroleum products than it imported.
But Johnson is wrong to say the situation has been reversed under Biden.
Our definition of Very False says: “The statement contains an element of truth but ignores important facts that might give a different impression.”
It goes in here.