WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is pausing approvals of pending applications for liquefied natural gas exports to countries with which the United States does not have free trade agreements, citing environmental concerns related to climate change as a key reason for the move.
While the temporary halt is in effect, the Energy Department is expected to evaluate and update the guidance used to make authorizations. The White House said in a fact sheet Friday that the economic and environmental analyses that the department currently uses are about five years old.
They “no longer 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 White House said.
The pause allows for exceptions to be made for unanticipated and immediate national security emergencies.
Liquified natural gas is a natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid state to allow for shipping and storage, according to the Energy Department. Any companies that want to export natural gas are required to obtain authorization from the department’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that his administration will take a “hard look at the impacts of LNG exports on energy costs” during this period as well as “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 said. “While MAGA Republicans willfully deny the urgency of the climate crisis, condemning the American people to a dangerous future, my Administration will not be complacent. We will not cede to special interests.”
According to the White House, the U.S. is the top exporter of LNG worldwide, with roughly half of the exports last year going to Europe. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the pause “will not affect already authorized exports, nor will it impact our ability to supply our allies in Europe, Asia, or other recipients of already authorized exports.”
“We remain committed to ensuring our partners’ medium-term energy needs are met,” she added. “And if needed, the department can determine if exceptions should be made for national security needs.”
Environmentalists and climate activists celebrated the delay, saying a halt to the exports would stop the country from plunging deeper into the climate crisis.
Former Vice President Al Gore said the decision shows Biden is taking seriously the pledge to transition away from fossil fuels that he and other world leaders made last month at the United Nations’ climate change summit last month.
“If we want to enhance energy security, create jobs, and prevent environmental injustice, we should be making investments in cheaper, readily available renewable energy, not dirty and damaging fossil fuels,” Gore said in a statement.
The pause was seen as a major victory for communities on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast — many underserved and communities of color — where several liquified natural gas export facilities were planned to be built. Environmentalists had called these projects “carbon bombs,” saying they would generate enormous amounts of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s not yet known what the temporary halt could mean for the future of one project in particular, the $10 billion Calcasieu Pass 2 project on the Louisiana coast. It was positioned to be the country’s largest gas export terminal when finished.
Mattea Mrkusic, a researcher and the energy transition policy lead at Evergreen Action, an environmental nonprofit group, said Biden’s decision shows that he is listening to low-income communities of color that are being disproportionately harmed by the effects of climate change.
“We already know that these facilities are directly harming public health in nearby communities and driving demand for fracking that accelerates the climate crisis,” she said in a statement. “No fair analysis could conclude that poisoning communities and spewing climate pollution is in the public interest.”