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Biden delays consideration of new natural gas export terminals, citing climate risk

By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press
Published: January 26, 2024, 7:54am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is delaying consideration of new natural gas export terminals in the United States, even as gas shipments to Europe and Asia have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The election year decision by President Joe Biden aligns with environmentalists who fear the huge increase in exports, in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is locking in potentially catastrophic planet-warming emissions when the Democratic president has pledged to cut climate pollution in half by 2030.

“While MAGA Republicans willfully deny the urgency of the climate crisis, condemning the American people to a dangerous future, my administration will not be complacent,” Biden said in a statement. “We will not cede to special interests. We will heed the calls of young people and frontline communities who are using their voices to demand action from those with the power to act.”

The current economic and environmental analyses the Energy Department uses to evaluate LNG projects don’t adequately account for potential cost hikes for American consumers and manufacturers or the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, the White House said.

Industry groups condemned the pause as a “win for Russia,” while environmentalists cheered an action they have long been seeking as a way to counter Biden’s approval of the huge Willow oil project in Alaska last year.

“This decision is brave, because Donald Trump (the man who pulled us out of the Paris climate accords on the grounds that climate change is a hoax) will attack it mercilessly,” environmental activist Bill McKibben wrote in an online post.

“But it’s also very, very savvy: Biden wants young people, who care about climate above all, in his corner. They were angry about his dumb approval of the Willow oil project,” McKibben added.

A proposed LNG export terminal in Louisiana would produce about 20 times the greenhouse gas emissions of Willow, McKibben noted.

“And of course everyone understands that if Biden is not reelected this win means nothing. It will disappear on Day One when (Trump) begins his relentless campaign to ‘drill drill drill,'” he said.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the pause will not affect already authorized exports.

“Nor will it impact our ability to supply our allies in Europe, Asia or other recipients of already authorized exports,” she said. “We remain committed to ensuring our partners’ medium-term energy needs are met.”

If necessary, the Energy Department can allow exceptions for national security needs, Granholm told reporters at a White House briefing late Thursday.

She and other officials declined to say how long the permitting pause will last, but said a study of how proposed LNG projects will affect the environment, the economy and national security will take “some months.” A public comment period after that will likely delay any decisions on pending LNG projects until after the 2024 presidential election.

U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas began less than a decade ago, but have grown rapidly in recent years to the point that the U.S. has become the world’s largest gas exporter. Exports rose sharply after Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and Biden and Granholm have celebrated the delivery of U.S. gas to Europe and Asia as a key geopolitical weapon against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The American Petroleum Institute, the largest lobbying group for the oil and gas industry, turned those comments against the Democratic administration as it condemned Biden’s action.

“This is a win for Russia and a loss for American allies, U.S. jobs and global climate progress,” said Mike Sommers, API’s president and CEO.

“There is no review needed to understand the clear benefits of U.S. LNG (exports) for stabilizing global energy markets, supporting thousands of American jobs and reducing emissions around the world by transitioning countries toward cleaner fuels” and away from coal, Sommers said in a statement late Thursday.

Biden’s action “is nothing more than a broken promise to U.S. allies, and it’s time for the administration to stop playing politics with global energy security,” he said.

Granholm, who has made it a point to work with oil and gas executives even as Biden has exchanged sometimes pointed barbs with them, said “a lot has happened” since LNG exports began about eight years ago.

“We need to have an even greater understanding of the (global energy) market need, the long-term supply and demand of energy resources and the environmental factors,” she said. “So by updating the analysis process now, we will be better informed to avoid export authorizations that diminish our domestic energy availability, that weaken our security or that undermine our economy. ‘’

Granholm emphasized the delay “is not a retroactive review of already authorized exports,” nor is it intended to punish the oil and gas industry.

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“We are committed to strengthening energy security here in the U.S. and with our allies, and we’re committed to protecting Americans against climate change as we lead the world into a clean energy future,” she said.

Jeremy Symons, an environmental consultant and former climate policy adviser at the Environmental Protection Agency, called Biden’s decision a “game-changer” in the fight against climate change.

“The president is drawing a line in the sand to put the nation’s interests first and listen to climate science,” Symons said in an interview. ”The days of massive fossil fuel projects like the CP2 project escaping scrutiny from the federal government are over. We now have a president who cares about climate change.”

Symons and other activists have targeted the $10 billion Calcasieu Pass 2 project, or CP2, along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, noting it would be the nation’s largest export terminal if built. The project in Cameron Parish would export up to 20 million tons (18.1 million metric tons) of chilled natural gas per year, creating more greenhouse gas emissions than even the Willow project, which environmentalists have decried as a “carbon bomb.”

Symons called the gas project “bad for our nation, bad for our health and bad for our economy.”

Shaylyn Hynes, spokeswoman for the project’s owner, Virginia-based Venture Global, said the Biden administration “continues to create uncertainty about whether our allies can rely on U.S. LNG for their energy security.”

A prolonged pause on LNG exports “would shock the global energy market … and send a devastating signal to our allies that they can no longer rely on the United States,” said Hynes, who served as an Energy Department spokeswoman in the Trump administration.

“The true irony is this policy would hurt the climate and lead to increased (greenhouse gas) emissions, as it would force the world to pivot to coal” instead of natural gas, Hynes said.

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