Trump Takes First Step Toward Ill-fated Oil Industry Bailout in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic
by Ryan Schleeter
March 13, 2020
Today, Donald Trump announced he would direct the Department of Energy (DOE) to purchase millions of barrels of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). This effectively means the DOE will take roughly 80 million barrels of oil off the market. At current prices, the total cost could exceed $2.6 billion in public funds . By comparison, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act introduced in the House of Representatives today details at least $1.68 billion in support for public health provisions and working families .
In response, Greenpeace USA Senior Climate Campaigner John Noël said:
“Trump’s response to a global pandemic is to put billionaires and corporate polluters ahead of American families. There’s no evidence that this handout would protect jobs, pensions, benefits, or ease the hardships facing fossil fuel workers or communities confronting the COVID-19 outbreak right now. It’s nothing more than a gift to the industry that created the climate crisis.
“This is the time to invest in a Green New Deal and chart a new course for a world beyond fossil fuels. That’s how we can truly protect workers from the kind of economic uncertainty we’ve already seen this week, ensure long-term prosperity for communities, and give ourselves a chance at navigating out of two crises at once.”
The decision comes days after Trump officials floated a broader federal bailout for fossil fuel companies hit by tanking oil prices . Today’s handout likely does not need Congressional approval, but Congress could intervene to stop this and further measures — such as lowering royalty rates for oil and gas production on federal lands or giving out low-interest loans to oil and gas companies. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposed legislation  today that would bar the Trump administration from using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to give handouts to the oil industry.
 The SPR capacity is 714 million barrels. It currently holds 634 million. In order to “fill it to the top,” as Trump has directed, DOE will need to purchase roughly 80 million barrels of oil. At the current market rate ($33/barrel), that would cost $2.6 billion in public funds, potentially including taxpayer money. Eighty million barrels represents roughly one week of US crude oil production.
Contact: Ryan Schleeter, Senior Communications Specialist, Greenpeace USA: +1 (415) 342-2386, [email protected]