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In win for climate advocates, Biden to pause decision on LNG exports

Activists fighting new liquefied-natural-gas export facilities, including CP2, celebrate news that Biden admin will consider the climate impacts of LNG.
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By Nicole Pollack

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Update: The Biden administration confirmed in an announcement on Friday that it would be pausing the permitting process for new LNG export projects in order to better assess their impacts on climate change and other factors.

The Biden administration is expected to postpone its decision on whether to approve a major proposed liquefied-natural-gas export facility until it can more thoroughly study the project’s impacts on the climate and the American public, The New York Times reported Wednesday. If built, the Calcasieu Pass 2 project in Louisiana, better known as CP2, would be the biggest LNG export terminal in the United States.

The delay marks a significant break from precedent for the Biden Department of Energy, which until now had followed in the footsteps of the Trump and Obama administrations in approving every complete LNG export application it considered. President Biden said almost two years ago that he believed the buildout of LNG export capacity could be consistent with, not in conflict with, the net-zero climate goal that we’re shooting for.”

But over the last few months, pressure has been mounting on Biden to rethink his stance.

Since the country’s first LNG export terminal opened in 2016, the share of U.S. natural gas shipped overseas has risen from virtually nothing to more than 10%. There are eight export terminals in operation along the U.S. coastline, with another 24 terminals and expansions under construction, approved or proposed. CP2 alone would be capable of liquefying about 4% of the consumer-grade natural gas that was produced in the U.S. in 2022.

Wednesday’s reported pivot comes amid a burgeoning campaign from environmental and taxpayer groups and Democratic members of Congress pushing the administration to consider the growing body of research refuting the purported climate benefits of natural gas — especially LNG — and apply more scrutiny to the terminals’ climate, environmental-justice and economic impacts. Opponents of the LNG buildout have likened the new campaign to the movement that stopped the Keystone XL pipeline.

Climate activists have called CP2 a carbon bomb,” warning that if the buildout of LNG export infrastructure is allowed to continue unchecked, it could quickly push U.S. climate goals out of reach. Some estimates have found that the process of fracking, liquefying, transporting and burning the natural gas processed by a single large LNG export terminal over its lifetime could emit roughly as much greenhouse gas as the entire U.S. power sector emits in a year.

In response to Wednesday’s news, writer and climate activist Bill McKibben, a leader in the fight against Keystone XL and a vocal critic of Biden’s past actions on LNG, posted on X, If this story is correct, Joe Biden has just done more than any president before him to check the expansion of dirty energy.”

McKibben told Canary Media in November that he suspected Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm hadn’t devoted much thought to LNG. My hope is that if we can raise enough of a ruckus that she has to pay some attention, she’ll probably figure out that not only is this the right thing to do from a policy point of view, it’s also the right thing to do from a political point of view,” he said.

In a newsletter sent out Wednesday afternoon, McKibben called the decision 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,” but also very very savvy: Biden wants young people, who care about climate above all, in his corner.”

The Department of Energy has shown signs in recent months that it was reexamining its handling of LNG, most notably by declining to automatically extend another LNG project’s export license late last year and reportedly starting to weigh changes to its review process earlier this month.

We knew that the administration was feeling the heat and that they felt they needed to act, so we thought something was coming,” said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group. We just weren’t sure exactly what the announcement would be.”

The administration has not publicly confirmed that it is changing its criteria for evaluating LNG export projects — though the announcement is likely to come soon, Bloomberg reported. It remains unclear whether the new considerations will also apply to other proposed LNG export projects and whether they will extend beyond climate change to include concerns like environmental justice and ecological harm.

Those details are going to matter,” Slocum said. But no matter what, he added, This shows that grassroots engagement works.”

To get all the background, read our recent feature story: The big battle brewing over LNG exports

Nicole Pollack is an Ohio-based environmental journalist who writes about energy, agriculture and climate change. She covers the politics and climate consequences of the U.S. LNG buildout for Canary Media.