Biden finally finds one pipeline he won't shut down

(Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

Among the many executive orders that Joe Biden issued upon taking office was one that shut down the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, putting tens of thousands of American jobs at risk. He’s had his eye on some other pipeline construction projects as well, a plan that will probably further impede the nation’s oil and gas industry as Biden works to impress his European friends with is climate advocacy. But in a bit of an ironic role reversal, there may be one such project that Biden won’t be bringing to a halt despite a bipartisan demand from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That would be Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline intended to bring natural gas to many European nations. The Biden administration has consistently said that they oppose the completion of the project, but Uncle Joe has yet to pull the trigger on new sanctions that might impact the pipeline’s construction because of (in case you couldn’t guess) politics. (Associated Press)

Pressure is growing on President Joe Biden to take action to prevent the completion of a Russian gas pipeline to Europe that many fear will give the Kremlin significant leverage over U.S. partners and allies. Yet such action could provoke an enormous rift in trans-Atlantic relations, notably with Germany, at a time when Biden has made restoring good ties with Europe a priority.

As the Nord Stream 2 pipeline nears completion, U.S. lawmakers from both parties have stepped up demands on a reluctant White House to impose new sanctions on Russian and European companies to halt the project. But prospects of that happening would seem slim: Germany continues to support the project as it steps up consumption of natural gas, and the pipeline is roughly 95% finished.

Joe Biden was supposed to be the “tough on Russia” President after years of claimed complacency by his predecessor. And to his credit, he has been vocally critical of some of Vladimir Putin’s excesses, particularly when it comes to the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny. But the pipeline being constructed by Gazprom (the Russian state oil company) represents an opportunity for the White House to score a win on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts. Completion of the Nord Stream 2 project will simultaneously reduce demand for American exports of natural gas in Europe and increase the leverage that Russia already holds over several eastern European nations and Germany.

The problem is that Germany is still supporting (and funding) the project. The sanctions being ordered by a unanimous vote on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wouldn’t just be targeting Russians. They would also impact businesses and investors in Poland and Austria, as well as Germany. Biden has been looking to strengthen American relationships with those nations so they’ll back his plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan and his proposed climate treaty agenda.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is giving Joe Biden a couple of weeks to either impose the new sanctions or explain specifically why those entities should be exempt. Assuming the request for sanctions actually makes it to his desk, Biden could always veto it. But that would mean going up against all of the Democrats who are already backing the proposal. It’s a sticky situation to be sure.

Perhaps it’s time for someone in Congress to ask Joe Biden why jobs in Germany and eastern Europe are more important than construction jobs here in the United States. We seem to be simultaneously undermining our own country’s dominance in the global energy market while opening the door for the Russians to supplant us with our supposed European allies. But to be fair to Biden, it’s not clear that the sanctions could actually stop the Russian pipeline from going into operation. The project is already 95% complete and seems to have plenty of funding. Also, Angela Merkel came out this week and defended Nord Stream 2 by saying that Russian natural gas already flows freely into Europe through the original Nord Stream 1 pipeline under the Black Sea. And her country is facing periodic power outages after shutting down most of its nuclear and coal-fired plants.

Nothing is ever as easy as it looks from the outside, I suppose. That’s a lesson that Joe Biden may be learning as he goes.