The move is a win for the climate and Gulf Coast frontline communities, but activists warn a “pause” is easily undone.
By Mike Ludwig
After coming under mounting pressure from climate activists and frontline communities on the Gulf Coast, the Biden administration announced on Friday a pause on new approvals of liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals, which environmentalists describe as “climate bombs” threatening to lock in global fossil fuel pollution for decades.
“Biden’s announcement shows two things: One, the marches, petitions, and grassroots organizing from frontline communities, youth, and their allies are working,” said Collin Rees, the U.S. program director at Oil Change International, in a statement. “And two, Biden is afraid his climate hypocrisy will cost him the election if he doesn’t make real progress on fossil fuels.”
Thanks to the fracking boom and the industry’s frenzied build-out of export terminals along U.S. coastlines, the United States is the world’s number one exporter of liquified fossil gas, a process of production and global distribution that leaks intense amounts of climate-warming methane into the atmosphere at virtually every step.
In a statement, the White House said the U.S. can “pause” export permitting to update the process with new environmental and economic considerations while still meeting the energy needs of allied nations in Europe and beyond.
At least 17 proposed export terminals are awaiting approval from Biden’s Energy Department, and the pause could complicate plans to build CP2, a massive export terminal proposed for southern Louisiana’s Cameron Parish. CP2 would expand processing and export operations near existing terminals that already release air pollution and disrupt local fisheries with huge gas-laden tanker ships.
Last week, fishers from Cameron Parish used their boats to disrupt an energy conference in New Orleans in protest of CP2 and broader LNG expansion, which they say is transforming Louisiana’s rich bayous and coastal region into an industrial wasteland.
Travis Dardar, an Indigenous fisher from Cameron Parish and founder of Fishermen Involved in Sustaining our Heritage, called the announcement a “victory” and his community is glad to know the Biden administration is “finally listening to us.” However, frontline activists want a permanent end to LNG export expansion.
“[A] pause can be unpaused anytime,” Dardar said in a statement on Friday. “We know firsthand how ruthless these gas export companies can be. They shoved these gas export terminals down our throats, destroying our fishing grounds, clogging the channel we use with their massive tankers, and constantly sending poisonous smoke into our air.”
Pausing new LNG export permits at the Energy Department will give regulators time to update the process for the first time in five years to better consider a proposed LNG terminal’s climate and economic impacts, including the costs handed down to domestic consumers when cheap gas is shipped overseas. The Biden administration’s understanding of the global LNG market and the “perilous impacts of methane on our planet” is evolving, the White House said.
The move could help Biden appeal to younger and progressive voters who are revolting over continued fossil fuel expansion and Biden’s support for Israel’s horrific war on Gaza.
It’s also an olive branch to frontline activists like Dardar in southern Louisiana, as well as frontline communities in eastern Texas, where the fossil fuel industry dominates the landscape and existing LNG terminals pollute the air. In these communities, the administration’s pledge to build new clean energy infrastructure is completely overshadowed by the expanding LNG industry, which covets the Gulf Coast as the quickest route to send fracked gas overseas.
“We also must adequately guard against risks to the health of our communities, especially frontline communities in the United States who disproportionately shoulder the burden of pollution from new export facilities,” the White House said in a statement that echoes the growing movement against LNG.
Tyson Slocum, director of energy at the watchdog group Public Citizen, said big oil executives have pursued an “America Last” policy by aggressively pushing for exports and price gouging consumers.
“Reconsidering the impact fossil fuel exports have on our economy and climate is a vital step toward protecting American households from the impact LNG exports have on higher utility bills,” Slocum said in a statement.
However, a pause is only as good as it lasts, according to Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter, a longtime critic of the oil and gas industry. Given the massive amount of LNG already being exported, and numerous additional projects already approved and under construction, any new permitting criteria that allows for LNG export terminals to be built in the future would be “useless.”
“Hopefully this pause represents the beginning of the end of fossil fuel exports in America,” Hauter said in a statement.
Rees said the “tide is turning” against LNG exports, but recent reporting from Oil Change International shows that U.S. oil and gas production will continue to grow despite Biden’s clean energy policies such as the green investments funded by the Inflation Reduction Act.
“Largely driven by surging U.S. exports of oil and gas, there will be no end in sight unless Biden blocks new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Rees said. “The majority of planned and existing LNG export terminals are in Black, Brown, and low-income communities that already experience high cancer risks and respiratory hazards due to exposure to pollutants.”
European lawmakers were the latest to join the chorus of climate scientists, frontline activists and bayou-cruising shrimp and oyster fishers warning Biden against approving more LNG export terminals.
The oil and gas industry has consistently argued new U.S. export terminals are needed to meet Europe’s energy and security needs, but 60 progressive members of the European Parliament, as well as national legislators from Ireland, France, Germany and Sweden say that is a “false depiction.”
“Europe should not be used as an excuse to expand LNG exports that threaten our shared climate and have dire impacts on US communities,”they stated in an open letter to the White House this week.
U.S. gas played an important role in addressing the energy crisis that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Europe’s current gas demand is already being met as renewable energy is set to expand, according to the letter. Existing European import infrastructure is underutilized at just 60 percent capacity in 2023, suggesting that there is no bottleneck the U.S. must clear with a build-out of new LNG export terminals on the Gulf Coast.
“If we want the next generation to be able to fish in Southwest Louisiana and feed America, then Biden and [Energy Secretary Jennifer] Granholm need to deny all gas export terminals, and let this sinking industry fall to the bottom of the sea,” Dardar said.
Mike Ludwig is a staff reporter at Truthout based in New Orleans. He is also the writer and host of “Climate Front Lines,” a podcast about the people, places and ecosystems on the front lines of the climate crisis. Follow him on Twitter: @ludwig_mike.
This article was published on January 27, 2024 at Truthout.