Environmental justice and climate advocates celebrated on Friday as the Biden administration announced that it was pausing approvals for all liquefied natural gas exports to non-Fair Trade Agreement countries in order to review the criteria it uses to approve or reject them.
In a statement, the White House said that the criteria used by the Department of Energy (DOE) was “roughly five years old” and therefore did not “adequately account for considerations like potential energy cost increases for American consumers and manufacturers beyond current authorizations or the latest assessment of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.”
The decision came following a sixth-month push by frontline communities and the wider climate movement to stop Venture Global’s proposed Calcasieu Pass 2 (CP2) export terminal as well as the broader LNG buildout planned for Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. CP2 alone would have emitted 20 times more than the controversial Willow oil drilling project in Alaska, while nearly 20 other planned terminals would have released the equivalent of 675 coal plants.
“The tide is turning,” Oil Change International U.S. program manager Collin Rees said in a statement. “President [Joe] Biden pausing pending liquefied natural gas (LNG) export applications is a huge win for people and planet. Following the commitment at the COP28 climate talks to transition away from fossil fuels, this is one of the most significant actions ever taken by a U.S. president to stop the dangerous expansion of fossil fuels and protect environmental justice. The momentum for a renewable energy future is undeniable.”
The White House statement, which came two days after The New York Times reported that a pause was forthcoming, reflected many of the concerns raised by activists, including the impacts of LNG terminals on nearby communities and new science indicating that the total emissions from LNG were actually greater than from domestically produced coal.
“Today, we have an evolving understanding of the market need for LNG, the long-term supply of LNG, and the perilous impacts of methane on our planet,” the White House said. 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.
Rees continued: “Biden’s announcement shows two things: One, the marches, petitions, and grassroots organizing from frontline communities, youth, and their allies are working. And two, Biden is afraid his climate hypocrisy will cost him the election if he doesn’t make real progress on fossil fuels.”
The statement ended with a list of the Biden administration’s “top climate accomplishments.”
“Tapping the brakes on CP2 is the best signal yet that the Biden administration is ready to put people and the planet ahead of fossil fuel profiteers,” Lauren Parker, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said in a statement. “This is a crucial moment to protect future generations by halting the massive U.S. fossil fuel expansion. Now that the administration is listening to frontline communities, youth, and climate advocates, it needs to go all in on phasing out fossil fuels. We need a public interest test that denies any fossil fuel expansion that would drive us deeper into climate catastrophe.”
The decision was applauded by Louisiana and Texas activists who have been raising alarm about the impacts of fossil fuel infrastructure on their communities for years.
“This announcement from the Biden administration is truly monumental for our communities,” Roishetta Ozane, director of the Vessel Project of Louisiana, said in a statement. “As someone who has witnessed the devastating impacts of fossil fuel extractive industries, I am filled with hope and gratitude for this important step towards justice. Halting permits for these industries is a clear acknowledgment of the urgent need to protect the well-being and rights of those of us who have been disproportionately affected. It is a powerful statement that we can no longer allow these industries to continue operating without considering the health and safety of the people living in these areas.”
Travis Dandar, the founder of Fisherman Involved in Sustaining Our Heritage, said the pause could be a “turning point” for places like Cameron, Louisiana, where fishing has declined by 50% because of existing LNG export terminals and tanker traffic.
“The disruption to our fishing grounds, the risk of explosions, and the loss of our cherished wetlands—these are the realities we live with,” Dandar said in a statement. “It’s time our struggles and our voices are acknowledged in the national energy policy conversation.”
Frontline activists in Texas also hoped the decision would have a broader impact on the region.
“I am hopeful this announcement will be the catalyst for real change in our communities and a clean energy future,” Freeport, Texas resident Gwen Jones said in a statement. “The reality is that fossil fuel companies are still building in people’s backyards and exposing people to toxic pollution. We still need to fight for an end to fossil fuels.”
“For too long, the United States served as an enabler for Big Oil and Big Gas’ get-rich-quick scheme, as it got countries around the world addicted to fossil fuels at the expense of American families.”
Public Citizen, meanwhile, focused on the benefits to U.S. consumers of not exporting gas.
“For far too long, Big Oil executives have pursued an ‘America Last’ policy, price gouging consumers and pushing harmful export policies, in a myopic and ham-fisted vision that puts profit above everything,” Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program, said in a statement. “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.”
The White House statement also echoed arguments put forward by activists that no new exports are needed to provide gas to the European Union following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Today’s announcement will not impact our ability to continue supplying LNG to our allies in the near-term,” the statement said.
It came a day after a group of 60 E.U. parliamentarians sent a letter to the Biden administration urging it not to build more LNG infrastructure.
“The E.U. has already initiated its gas phaseout, our analysis shows the E.U. will cut its oil and gas demand by one-third by 2030 and gas can be effectively phased out by 2040,” Linda Kalcher, executive director at Strategic Perspectives, said in a statement. “New LNG investments will be a white elephant U.S. investors will live to regret.”
Experts and activists in Asia, another major market for U.S. gas, also welcomed the news.
“Asia does not need any new LNG,” Gerry Arances, executive director at the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development in the Philippines, said in a statement. “The region is already suffering impacts from unsustainable LNG development. Further expansion risks severe ecological and economic damages.”
“We cannot afford to let up in our efforts to hold decision-makers accountable and ensure that frontline communities are no longer subjected to the harmful effects of these industries.”
In the U.S., Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass), who introduced a bill in May 2023 to ban fossil fuel exports, also applauded the news.
“For too long, the United States served as an enabler for Big Oil and Big Gas’ get-rich-quick scheme, as it got countries around the world addicted to fossil fuels at the expense of American families,” Markey said in a statement. This surge in natural gas exports was matched by rising energy costs at home and soaring global temperatures driven by fossil-fueled climate change. I applaud the Biden administration for this much-needed move to protect American communities from export-driven pollution and profiteering.”
As they took a moment to celebrate, activists acknowledged that there was more work ahead.
“This is a major sign of hope, but this fight is not over,” 350.org U.S. campaign manager Candice Fortin said in a statement. “Let’s be real: The harmful effects of fracked gas on health and climate are not in question. The oil and gas industry and the government know the data. So now that they have paused, there is only one thing to do: Vow to reject CP2 and all 17 proposed LNG projects, and to phase out ALL fossil fuels.”
Ozane concluded: “While this decision is a significant victory, we must not become complacent. The fight for environmental justice and the elimination of fossil fuel extractive industries must continue. We must remain vigilant and continue to advocate for sustainable alternatives. We cannot afford to let up in our efforts to hold decision-makers accountable and ensure that frontline communities are no longer subjected to the harmful effects of these industries. This announcement is a reason to celebrate, but it is also a reminder that our work is far from over.”
Republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).