The Biden administration announced a pause on new gas export projects today, saying it needs to better assess each project’s economic and environmental impact. The decision won’t affect ongoing exports, just pending decisions on liquified natural gas (LNG) exports to countries with which the US has no free trade agreement.
“During this period, we will take a hard look at the impacts of LNG exports on energy costs, America’s energy security, and our environment,” Biden said in a statement today. “This pause on new LNG approvals sees the climate crisis for what it is: the existential threat of our time.”
The pause applies to four pending projects and it could take several months for the Biden administration to complete its assessment of each project, according to senior administration officials.
A White House fact sheet released today says that the Department of Energy’s previous approval process hasn’t been updated for five years, and it needs to be revamped to better assess how gas exports might drive up consumer costs in the US and account for greenhouse gas emissions from each project. So-called natural gas is primarily methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide that routinely escapes from gas infrastructure.
The move comes as President Joe Biden faces pressure to cut US gas development and tries to woo voters who want to see action on climate change. The US is the world’s top gas producer and exporter, despite the president’s pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US has ramped up LNG exports to Europe as much of the Western world tried to wean itself off Russian gas reserves. But earlier this week, 60 members of European Parliament sent a letter to Biden saying “Europe should not be used as an excuse to expand [LNG] exports that threaten our shared climate and have dire impacts on US communities … Europe’s current consumption of fossil gas is already being met under current import levels and with existing infrastructure.” Around half of US LNG exports went to Europe last year, according to the White House fact sheet.
Until today’s announcement, Biden also faced backlash from activists in the US over pollution from proposed gas export terminals. “Thank you, President Biden and [Energy Secretary Jennifer] Secretary Granholm, for standing up to the fossil fuel industry,” said mutual aid organization Vessel Project of Louisiana in a Facebook post today. It was one of the groups planning a sit-in, which has since been canceled, at the Department of Energy in February to halt the approval of new LNG facilities.
A website that has garnered more than 300,000 signatures, including support from celebrity activist Jane Fonda, for a petition with the same aim now says, “We did it! President Biden is pausing all new LNG export terminals.”