U.S. Development Finance Helped Rescue Europe from Russian Energy

June 18, 2024 Topic: Economics Region: Europe Tags: DFCEnergyRussiaAmerican LNGNuclear Energy

U.S. Development Finance Helped Rescue Europe from Russian Energy

U.S. development financing has gone and can go a long way in reducing global energy dependence on Russia.

America is facing a critical period of intensifying international challenges. The aggressive maneuvers of adversaries demand an increasingly robust use of U.S. foreign policy assets. Energy to sustain growing economies is at the heart of these issues. America has the opportunity to ensure its influence on the world stage as a provider of affordable, reliable, and clean energy security for decades to come. As Congress considers reauthorizing the U.S. Development Finance Corporation (DFC), whose authorization expires in 2025, it’s time to supercharge this agency as part of an integrated international energy security and climate strategy.

The DFC, the modernized U.S. government development finance institution ramped up during the Trump administration, with bipartisan Congressional support, is a crucial player in helping America compete in geoeconomic rivalries over the future of energy leadership. In 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, America demonstrated its capacity as a global energy powerhouse. For decades, the European Union (EU) had depended on Russian natural gas imports, which grew in share even after the invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014. In just one year, the U.S. surged its LNG exports, driving Russian market share in the EU down from 40 percent in 2021 to just 8 percent in 2023. 

This lifeline to Europe was partly enabled by the DFC, which provided over $1.5 billion in financing to support Europe’s energy diversification away from Russian gas. This is just one example of how the DFC has become a key federal agency in supporting America’s geopolitical and geoeconomic interests.

Energy projects supported by the DFC cut across various sectors, ranging from diversifying natural gas supplies in Poland to developing an energy supply hub in Greek shipyards to fostering clean energy generation in Bulgaria and Georgia. This provides allies and partners with U.S. alternatives to malignant energy producers like Russia and the predatory lending for energy infrastructure performed by actors like China. Furthermore, unlike most federal agencies, the DFC typically generates a financial return for taxpayer dollars. In FY 2023, the DFC returned a net positive income of $340 million to the U.S. Treasury from projects it invested in abroad.

To fully leverage its capabilities, the DFC needs streamlined processes and additional authority. Here are three solutions. First, fixing the scoring of equity investments would unlock an essential tool Congress gave the DFC and would be particularly impactful for energy projects. Second, expanding and simplifying country eligibility will allow the DFC to support energy security in geopolitically important regions with ease. Lastly, to continue or expand its work, the DFC must be reauthorized with an increased financing capacity from $60 billion to at least $100 billion. Reducing these bureaucratic constraints and providing clearer, more flexible guidelines can enhance the corporation's ability to respond swiftly to global energy challenges. These changes would make the DFC a more agile and effective tool in the U.S. foreign policy arsenal.

Important allies like Japan and India still rely heavily on imported Russian oil and gas to maintain their economies. Consequently, they must tread carefully in their dealings with Russia rather than stand up to Moscow. Even as the world seeks to expand cleaner and more reliable energy sources, Russia continues to reinforce dependence on its oil and gas with nuclear energy exports. Nuclear reactors can operate for up to 80 years or more, creating generational energy dependency on Russia wherever they are built. Today, Russian reactors are under construction in the NATO countries of Hungary and Turkey, in major non-NATO ally Egypt, and emerging economies across Africa. A cohesive American strategy to reduce reliance on those actors benefits both the U.S. economy and global security.

Similarly, China's increasing dominance in critical energy projects and materials, from nuclear plants in Argentina to monopolies over critical mineral supply and processing, presents a strategic challenge. 

Fortunately, DFC is helping America get back into the game by investing in critical minerals projects in Brazil and submitting letters of interest to support nuclear projects in Romania, Poland, South Africa, and Indonesia. It’s a good start, but America can do more.

DFC isn’t the only tool the United States has available. In 2025, the 119th Congress has an opportunity to build out other critical U.S. policy tools. The Export-Import Bank (EXIM), a key supporter of U.S. exports, should be reauthorized, and its China & Transformational Exports Program (CTEP) should be expanded and include nuclear energy, critical minerals, carbon management, and LNG when it meets national security or to displace coal assets financed by China. Other federal agencies like the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), and others also have important roles to play and could benefit from renewed mandates to implement efficient and effective energy security projects overseas. 

The next decade is pivotal in shaping the global energy landscape. Congress and the upcoming administration must provide bold leadership. An international energy security agenda doesn’t only benefit the U.S.; it is essential for the global community as a whole. By meeting this challenge, America not only supports its own economic and strategic interests but also contributes to global stability and prosperity. Through strategic investments and leadership, agencies like the DFC can transform the global energy sector, paving the way for a future where energy is not a tool of coercion but a bridge to greater international cooperation and development.

Jeremy Harrell is CEO of ClearPath, a conservative energy advocacy organization whose mission is to accelerate American innovation to reduce global energy emissions.

Image: Wojciech Wrzesien / Shutterstock.com.