Politico reported on Wednesday that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is vetting Amos Hochstein for a role negotiating to kill an oil pipeline between Germany and Russia. This might sound like a positive development for Biden’s foreign policy on climate change — until you learn that Hochstein, until September 2020, was a marketing executive at the gasoline giant Tellurian.
If he gets the job, Hochstein will not be fighting to end the Nord Stream 2 pipeline out of any significant concern for fossil fuels’ devastating impact on our planet. His concern will be that Russia, instead of U.S. oil firms, would gain influence and profit in Germany.
Hochstein previously served in the Obama State Department, where his job was essentially to secure access to global oil fields on behalf of putatively American multinational Big Oil firms. He is a strong believer in petroleum as a tool for diplomacy, especially when that results in the United States gaining both fuel and foreign influence.
Here are a few of the most alarming aspects of Amos Hochstein’s history:
At a keynote address to oil and gas executives in 2017, Hochstein said the quiet part out loud about the industry-led myth of “bridge fuels.”
- Hochstein delivered the keynote closing address at the GE Oil and Gas Annual Meeting in 2017, where he painted an exuberant picture about the future of fossil fuels: “I leave here after the last two days entirely optimistic. Because this sector, that has fueled so much job growth and economic prosperity in the United States and around the world is clearly focusing in the right direction, which is ‘how do we use technology, innovation, to be able to bring about that next future in the oil and gas sector?’”
- Hochstein continued that he was optimistic about discussions of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a clean energy grid, but made clear that he anticipates this “bridge” to remain for the long term: “A bridge is not something where when you cross it you cut it off. A bridge remains. Natural gas will continue to be that backbone of a cleaner energy future. So these are the reasons that I leave optimistic.”
This winking statement acknowledged that building out and sustaining the infrastructure needed to make natural gas a “bridge fuel” all but ensures that it will be used for the long term, in order to make a necessary return on the upfront investment. Meanwhile, clean energy is now consistently cheaper than carbon-generating energy sources like natural gas.
In 2020, Hochstein dismissed climate change activists as being “emotional” and said the planet was “past the conversation of the last few years where transition was going to be immediate” and the priority would be keeping fuels in the ground.
- Hochstein dismissed objections to allowing natural gas into the energy grid at a fossil fuel industry conference in 2020: “The conversation about the transition has to move from an emotional one and a goal-oriented one towards a fact-based, information-based, and technology-based one. Where are we actually going, and how will we achieve the goals? It’s going to take longer to achieve the transitions that we all hope for. I truly believe that natural gas is going to play a far greater role in the transition.”
- Hochstein similarly disparaged the idea of keeping fossil fuels in the ground: “We are past the conversation of the last few years where transition was going to be immediate. ‘We’re just keeping it all in the ground and going to go to all renewables.’ That is not going to happen. We’re going to have the oil and gas industry here to stay for several decades, and the renewable industry is going to grow by leaps and bounds. That we all know. Exactly how that’s going to work we don’t.”
- Hochstein expressed particular excitement at the Indian government of Narendra Modi clearing away barriers toward fossil fuel development and investment: “I believe that India and the government here has taken critically important steps to invest in infrastructure, change the regulatory environment, reduce the taxes, which will now allow for US gas to be extremely competitive in India. So I foresee a bright future for US-India, not political relationship, but energy-investment relationship. Where not only as consumer and buyer, but rather, as a holistic relationship between the two countries that will go into the future.”
Hochstein warned against the U.S. banning drilling on banning Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) exports.
- At a 2019 panel at the Atlantic Council, which is funded heavily by the fossil fuel industry, Hochstein said: “If we would make any kind of executive order that would discuss these issues on federal lands, the impact on the actual fossil fuel industry would relatively be muted. If you look at where most of the drilling is happening, it will have some impact. It will have, I think, a greater impact on exports, on people willing to trust whether or not you’re starting to touch things like ‘Are you going to ban LNG exports? Are you going to reinstate the embargo on crude oil exports that was removed during the Obama administration?’ […] I think there’ll be a lot of Democrats who will have some issues with some of these ideas, and how they’re discussed and how we move forward on those will have a great impact.”
Hochstein claimed that some Republicans might be willing to vote for a carbon tax.
- At the same 2019 Atlantic Council panel, Hochstein expressed a belief that Republicans might be willing to vote for a carbon tax. “There’s no question that it’s not the sin qua non, but I think there is openness in the political spectrum. And because Republicans have come a long way on the Hill to being willing to vote on a carbon tax, it could be something that grows, and the rate of the tax could also rise as time goes by, and it becomes an important piece of just changing the psyche in America for polluters to pay for the pollution they put out.”
During the Obama administration, Hochstein vocally supported continued U.S. involvement in the Middle East to secure oil and gas.
- In 2016, Amos Hochstein was the State Department’s Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs. He was nominated to become Assistant Secretary for Energy Resources, but was never confirmed.
- In a September 2016 subcommittee hearing on foreign affairs, Hochstein laid out his philosophy of achieving greater peace in the Middle East through interconnecting fossil fuel resources: “Let me be clear: energy will not solve political differences in the region. But it can, and in fact already has, provided incentives to accelerate political accommodation and encourage compromise. The future I see for the region includes new and old pipelines connecting Israel’s offshore resources to Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority. It includes Cypriate gas exports to Turkey, and/or Egypt, allowing Egypt to satisfy its own power needs and export via existing but now idle LNG terminals. New resources will allow Turkey to diversify its heavy dependence on a small number of suppliers, and use its extensive pipeline network to reach Europe as well. The success of all these plans, however, hinges on cooperation. Countries will save billions if they share infrastructure and market access. If they don’t share these resources, most of the gas will have to stay in the ground.”
- Hochstein asserted at the same hearing that it was crucial for US oil firms to have an easy regulatory environment and enforceable means of neutralizing legal threats from foreign governments: “One of the early lessons learned in the development of East Med resources is the critical importance of regulatory certainty, a business climate that is conducive to investment, contract sanctity, and close cooperation between the government and the private sector. The lack of regulatory clarity and instability cost Israel years in development of its largest offshore resource. But despite early challenges, I’m now optimistic and confident in the long-term stability of energy development in the region.”
Hochstein has constantly reasserted that the United States should never, in the foreseeable future, leave the Middle East oil and gas market: “This is a region that you don’t get to leave.”
- In his 2016 written testimony before Congress, Hochstein wrote: “[I]t is striking to me how often I am asked whether increasing production levels in the United States means we are becoming ‘energy independent’ and therefore will disengage from the Middle East. Let me be clear: nothing could be further from the truth. Our relations and interests in the Middle East have always been – and will continue to be – strong, multifaceted, deep, complex, and strategic. We live in an international global economy with interdependent energy markets. And even if all products we consume would originate beneath our own soil and oceans, we would still not be ‘independent.’ A disruption anywhere in the world would have consequences everywhere, including here at home.” [emphasis his]
- This statement actually contradicted the Obama administration’s official line on energy policy, which was that energy independence was both achievable and a primary goal of the oil and gas expansion during his presidency, especially through fracking.
- In 2020, on the oil industry radio show Half-Time Talk, Hochstein repeated his assertions about the Middle East and the US fossil fuel industry. “The idea that the United States will leave the region is not realistic. This is a region that you don’t get to leave. We have bases throughout the region, and when you try to leave it, it soon flares up somewhere. […] And it comes to bite you if you try to leave hastily or not too strategically.”
Hochstein has a long history of supporting devastating sanctions regimes and wars, to the point where he was criticized by name in a memoir by a UN humanitarian coordinator.
- In 2000, one year before 9/11 and three years before the start of the Iraq war, then-Congressman Sam Gejdenson issued a press release warning that “Saddam Hussein may have started to rebuild his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. He emphasized the critical importance of this issue to both the United States and the international community, but declared ‘Just because we don’t have good options doesn’t mean that we ought to stick to the policy as it is.’” The contact listed on the press release was his then-aide, Amos Hochstein.
- In 2005, H.C. Von Sponeck released a memoir of his time as the United Nations’ Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq in the 1990’s, during a period when a devastating U.S.-led sanctions regime caused mass starvation and privation throughout the country. Von Sponeck writes: “I remember vividly the visit of a five-member US Congressional aides delegation. Four of them came with ambivalent positions on their government’s sanctions policy; the fifth, Amos Hochstein, representing Sam Gejdenson, a Conservative Democrat in the US Congress from Connecticut, did not hesitate to state at the first of a series of meetings we had in my office that he had come to Iraq to squarely defend the hard-line position of both the Congress and the White House.”
- After their trip, while the four other aides were “seemingly depressed by what they had seen and heard,” Von Sponeck writes that “Amos Hochstein remained convinced that economic sanctions had to remain but, to my surprise, conceded that there was a need to ‘humanise’ these sanctions. While I did not think that this was likely to happen, I was encouraged by the impression that conditions in the country had made on him and the rest of the US delegation. What he did hide, as I subsequently found out, was that he had met ‘on the side’ with Under-Secretary Nizar Hamdoun of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to discuss a ‘hot’ political issue: the possible resettlement of several thousand Palestinians in Central Iraq in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. I assume that this was an ‘assignment’ rather than merely raised out of his personal curiosity.”
- In 2016, Hochstein testified that “Iraq has emerged from decades of mismanagement and sanctions to resume its role as a major oil supplier.” This referred to the same U.S. sanctions with devastating humanitarian impacts on which he’d previously refused to budge. Hochstein continued “The country is still developing, but we are intensely focused on helping Iraq build in improved reliability in its energy sector, and to sharing best practices related to oil and natural gas production, distribution, and export.”
Hochstein predicted that the Biden administration would want a good relationship with Saudi Arabia and predicted a second “pivot to Asia” reminiscent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
- Hochstein told the radio show Half-Time Talk in 2020 that “I believe the administration will come in wanting to have a good relationship with UAE, a good relationship with the Gulf, and to figure out how to have a relationship with Saudi Arabia. And I don’t know that anybody knows how that will work, because there are some things that will have to be worked out that a Democratic administration will face challenges from its own constituencies and its own feelings about how to build that relationship with Saudi Arabia. That’s the most difficult piece.”
- Hochstein told the radio show Half-Time Talk in 2020 that “If you think of the Obama administration’s first term, when we discussed a lot the pivot to Asia, I think we’re going to be going back to that. I think there’s no doubt that there’s this sense that to deal with China is not just about confrontation. It’s about how do you disagree with China on some issues and agree with China on some issues in the way that Obama did, or tried to do, I think, with mixed results. But China joined the Paris Agreement, but we did not do as well on some other areas.”
The Biden administration is required by law to sanction entities involved in the Germany-Russia pipeline’s construction. Senator Ted Cruz has been holding up speedy confirmation of Biden’s State Department appointees as part of an effort to push action against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline (again, purely out of geopolitical concerns, not climate ones.)
Appointing Hochstein, however, could have massive long-term consequences for Biden’s climate foreign policy. He is a lifelong political operator who may not want to give up a State Department job if he secures one for a discrete task like these negotiations.
Already, Climate Envoy John Kerry, under whom Hochstein served in the Obama State Department, has undermined a climate push by Biden’s independent financial regulators by positioning Wall Street as the driver of a clean energy future. Granting Hochstein another spin through State would further cement it as a short-sighted weak link in Biden’s stated whole-of-government commitment to address this existential crisis.
PHOTO: “Dr. Enzo Viscuzi, Ambassador Amos J. Hochstein” by Italy in US is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0