(WASHINGTON) — The Biden administration announced a pause on applications for liquified natural gas export terminals on Friday to consider their impact on climate change, a major step coming from the world’s largest exporter of natural gas.
The Department of Energy will be launching a review to determine how to factor in the impact of climate change in whether to approve new natural gas export facilities but will not halt current natural gas exports.
It would be the first time the federal government has considered blocking this kind of project because it could contribute to climate change.
Liquified natural gas, or LNG, is natural gas that has been cooled to make it easier to transport. In 2023, the U.S. became the largest LNG exporter in the world, partly due to the increase in domestic production and construction of new LNG export terminals, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In a statement announcing the news, President Joe Biden said the pause comes as part of his focus to do more on climate change.
“From Day One, my Administration has set the United States on an unprecedented course to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad – securing the largest climate investment in the history of the world, unlocking clean energy breakthroughs that will power a clean economy and create thousands of jobs, advancing environmental justice for all, and rallying world leaders to transition away from the fossil fuels that jeopardize our planet and our people,” Biden said in a statement.
“But more action is needed,” he continued.
There will be an exception, Biden said, for ” unanticipated and immediate national security emergencies.”
“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. This pause on new LNG approvals sees the climate crisis for what it is: the existential threat of our time,” he added.
Climate advocacy groups and local activists are calling the announcement a major win after lobbying Biden to block new LNG export terminals, saying the U.S. should not build new fossil fuel infrastructure.
“LNG projects are enormous carbon bombs, and each one of them is dozens of coal-fired power plants,” Vice President of Evergreen Action Craig Segall told ABC News.
“So we’ve already made a commitment to the world at COP28 that we are moving away from fossil fuels. Biden’s already passed the biggest climate law in U.S. history,” he added. “Now, it’s really important for the U.S. not to double down on pushing fossil products to the rest of the world.”
The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group that represents the natural gas industry, said U.S. LNG exports helped stabilize global energy markets after Russia attacked Ukraine. It also said that this decision undermines Biden’s promise to help Europe move away from Russian gas.
“This 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,” API President Mike Sommers said in a statement this week.
The announcement does not stop current exports of natural gas but delays any decisions on whether to expand the country’s export capacity in the future until they develop a process to consider the impact on climate change.
Senior administration officials emphasized that it will not halt any exports of natural gas to Europe or other allies.
“Anyone who tells you that a project that is currently being proposed is for the European energy crisis that we saw a couple of years ago is selling you a red herring because the end of the day these projects are not even going to be online until the 2030s,” Gillian Giannetti, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told ABC News.
Biden faced intense criticism from climate advocates last year for approving the Willow Project to drill oil in Alaska amid a social media campaign for him to block it. The administration argued it didn’t have the legal authority to block the project but took steps to reduce emissions and protect other areas in the region.
Climate advocacy groups say they plan to highlight Biden’s record on climate change going into the 2024 presidential election, especially if former President Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee.
Segall said Friday’s announcement shows the administration is taking the calls from climate activists seriously.
“I think it’s a winner. We saw the youth climate movement — and those votes are so important to this election — be really clear,” he said. “They want to see a pivot on fossil fuel extraction.”
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