It looks like the early days of the Biden administration are setting up an economic faceoff between the sensibilities of the coasts and the realities of Flyover Country. Or, as an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal put it, "Will Biden Choose Paris Over Bismarck and Pierre?"
Indeed, from Michigan to Texas, from Colorado to Ohio, and from the capital of North Dakota to the capital of South Dakota, the early decisions of the federal government under Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi may advance their ambitious environmental goals, eventually.
But much more immediately, they create the danger of crushing or at least wounding the huge part of the American economy that relies on the production, transportation and consumption of fossil fuels.
Or, put another way – and we hate to say this, because The Flyover Coalition isn’t a partisan deal – will the Democrats choose the largely aspirational and non-binding goals of the Paris Accord on climate change over the very real hopes, dreams and welfare of millions of Americans?
President Biden wasted little time to achieve certain things as he began his stint in the White House this month, and unilateral moves to reconstruct the automotive business and destroy the oil-and-gas industry were among his most significant first actions. Tabling completion of the on-again, off-again Keystone XL pipeline via executive order was one of those steps, as was imposing a moratorium on issuing new oil and gas leases on federal land and waters.
Imminent other actions could include crushing the Dakota Access pipeline that is currently transporting an average of 570,000 barrels a day of crude oil from the Bakken Formation beneath North Dakota and Montana to refineries in Midwest and Gulf Coast states. And it seems likely the Biden administration will take further inspiration from places like Portland, Oregon, where the city would like to impose some $11 million in new annual fees on businesses such as "major stationary sources of air pollution."
Meanwhile, newly empowered Senate Majority Leader Schumer was threatening the auto industry with the specter of environmental restrictions right out of the Green New Deal. Schumer even told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow that the Senate could use its powers of budget reconciliation to put the kibosh on problems like gasoline engines.
Not surprisingly, counter-reactions were immediate. Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order directing all state agencies to sue the Biden administration for any federal actions that threaten the Lone Star State’s energy sector.
“Texas is going to protect the oil and gas industry from any type of hostile attack launched from Washington, D.C.,” Abbott said. “President Biden’s embrace of the green new deal is a job killer in Texas. It also takes a wrecking ball to the energy independence that Texas has been able to provide the United States of America, and Texas is not going to stand idly by.”
In the auto industry, the danger is a little less immediate. Making all-electric vehicles requires about 30 percent less labor than making vehicles powered by internal-combustion engines because it involves fewer materials and less-complex systems. Flyover Country is a global mecca for production of engines, transmissions, and other components associated with ICE engines, such as fuel and exhaust systems.
This isn’t just a specter for blue-collar workers in the auto industry. The industry’s transition to electrified vehicles (and, eventually, to autonomous cars) will demand lots of new software, engineering and development activity. But the digital nature of the tasks involved favors more jobs in Silicon Valley than in Michigan and Alabama.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra has tried to beat government climate warriors to the punch by establishing the huge aspirational goal of converting the company’s global light-vehicle fleet entirely to all-electric vehicles by 2035, part of an even broader plan involving the automaker’s operations and a goal of complete corporate carbon neutrality by 2040. But feeling their oats these days, disciples of extreme action on carbon emissions are threatening to accelerate dramatically the demise of gasoline- and diesel-powered engines.
Both GM and President Biden have talked vaguely about so-called “quality” jobs in the green-energy sector that could sop up some of the tens of thousands of workers who would be made jobless by a race into an EV future. Biden also has introduced a “Buy American” plan for the overall manufacturing sector that, in some ways, could be a bigger boon to U.S. factories than the highly visible efforts by former President Trump to promote “Made in the USA.”
But are Democrats in Washington willing to sacrifice Pierre and Bismarck, Detroit and Huntsville, Midland and Odessa – and the millions of residents in those cities and their states that depend on today’s economy for their jobs – on the altar of the mysteries of climate change, and for Paris accords that unfairly put the onus of emissions reductions on western countries, while China and India get off scot-free?
Out here in Flyover Country, the answer is more important than just about anything else.