© 2021 WYPR
Header Background.png
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Defending The Climate And Public Health Instead Of Saudi Arabia

U.S. Department of Defense

The coronavirus crisis has contributed to a crash in oil prices, as people are driving less while working at home and many businesses are shut down. Competition between Saudi Arabia and Russia has also caused a glut in global oil production.

As a result, many oil and gas companies are suffering huge financial losses, laying off workers, and asking the federal government for a bailout or some kind of government assistance.

President Trump held a meeting on Friday at the White House with the CEO’s of eight major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Phillips66.“I just want to start by saying it’s an honor to be with you,” Trump told the executives.

“I know most of you… But I know all of you by seeing you on the covers of all the business magazines and other magazines. And you’ve done a great job and we’ll work this out.  And we’ll get our energy businesses back. I’m with you 1,000 percent.”

Republican Senators from oil producing states also attended. And – although the audio from the meeting was not great -- Senator Ted Cruz of Texas clearly used the opportunity to call attention to the neediest among us during these times of pandemic: The oil companies.

“I would underscore one other issue,” Cruz said, “that a number of the folks around this table are very concerned about: Is ensuring that those in energy – in this time of crisis – have access to capital.”

Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota demanded that U.S. troops and missile systems, currently protecting Saudi Arabian oil fields, be moved out of Saudi Arabia as a way of pressuring that country to reduce its oil production. Less Saudi oil would raise oil prices, and therefore boost the revenues of American drilling companies in North Dakota and other states.

“It is estimated, by one report in 2018, that we spend a minimum of $81 billion dollars defending global oil supplies,” Cramer said. “We could use that money in national defense in other hotspots in the world.”

Let that sink in for a moment. First, the fact that the U.S. has thousands of soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia, not to protect America, but to influence the price of oil so that U.S. oil companies and their investors can make bigger profits.

Second, that U.S. taxpayers already spend $81 billion dollars every year so that the U.S. military can defend the stability of the global oil industry.

This $81 billion dollars is subsidizing an industry that is destroying the global climate through greenhouse gas pollution and causing widespread flooding, wildfires and other catastrophes. Imagine if the United States, instead, used this money to help transition to a cleaner energy future. How many solar panels or electric car charging stations, could $81 billion pay for?

Or imagine if we invested this taxpayer money in something else that benefitted the public good – like public education, or public health? $81 billion dollars is more than eighty times the $1 billion the U.S. invests every year in preventing the spread of emerging infectious diseases and preventing global pandemics, like the one caused by the coronavirus.

Instead of paying the Pentagon and military contractors to defend a despotic regime in Saudi Arabia, we could have used that money to expand and improve U.S. hospitals and buy badly needed supplies for cities like Baltimore and New York.

As our country figures out how to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, we should use the opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities and start spending our money to bail out our planet and public, not oil companies.

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.