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Biden Set To Withhold Approval Of LNG Terminals In Gulf Of Mexico

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The New York Times reported on January 24, 2024 that the Biden administration appears ready to delay and/or deny permits for new LNG terminals in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House is directing the Energy Department to expand its evaluation of the project to consider its impact on climate change, as well as on the economy and national security, people in the Biden administration told the Times.

Until now, the Energy Department has never rejected a proposed natural gas project because of its expected environmental impact. The US presently has 7 LNG terminals with 5 more under construction. There are 17 proposed new projects waiting for approval, starting with one known as Calcasieu Pass 2. Last month, 170 scientists, including Rose Abramoff, Robert Howarth, Mark Jacobson, Peter Kalmus, Michael Mann, Sandra Steingraber, Farhana Sultana and Aradhna Tripati, wrote to the Biden administration urging that the CP2 project not be approved. That letter said, in part,

“Taken together, if all U.S. projects in the permitting pipeline are approved, they could lead to 3.9 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, which is larger than the entire annual emissions of the European Union… We implore you to turn back from this course, reject CP2 and other fossil fuel export projects, and put us on a rapid and just trajectory off fossil fuels.“

According to Food and Water Watch, the letter cited the enormous impact the proposal would have on global climate pollution — about 20 times that of the recently-approved Willow oil drilling project in Alaska. At the time, Bill McKibben wrote, ” People living nearby these enormous facilities have always known they were enormous, but in recent months the rest of us have gotten a much better idea of the scale. So much fracked gas is now pouring out through the Gulf that it wipes out the gains under the president’s IRA clean energy plans. Indeed, it wipes out all the emission reductions made since the turn of the century (emhasis added).

The Politics Of LNG

There are eight billion reasons why these carbon bombs should never have been considered, never mind approved. That’s how many people there are on Earth today, all of whom will be affected to a greater or lesser extent by an environment that is growing hotter and hotter, thanks to all the carbon dioxide and methane being pumped into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels. But there are other reasons to disapprove of the pending LNG terminals rooted in a clear eyed political calculus.

Younger voters were essential to Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 but they were bitterly disappointed when Biden approved the so-called Willow plan that would expand oil drilling in the North Slope region of Alaska last year. The decision to pump the brakes on new LNG terminals is intended, in part, to win back the support of those young voters in the next election.

The Repugnicans in Congress wasted no time getting out their cudgels to beat Biden with after word of the new policy got out. Mitch McConnell, who singlehandedly helped overturn Roe Vs Wade by manipulating appointments to the Supreme Court over the past 8 years, sprang into action to say, “This move would amount to a functional ban on new LNG export permits. The administration’s war on affordable domestic energy has been bad news for American workers and consumers alike.”

McKibben was quick to point out that exporting LNG actually decreases the supply of methane gas in the United States, which drives up the cost of energy for all Americans who heat their homes with gas or use electricity generated by thermal facilities that burn methane gas.

In a blog post today, McKibben said, “The only other argument that the fossil fuel industry has mustered — that Europe needs more gas in the wake of Putin’s invasion — is simply wrong. We’re already sending them plenty — the world is awash in cheap gas. As Ben Jealous (head of the Sierra Club and former head of the NAACP) said in the Washington Post this morning, “The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis makes clear that European demand for natural gas will steadily drop in the years ahead, because the continent, in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, dramatically stepped up its conversion to renewable energy.”

But Europe is not the only market for LNG from Gulf ports. Many of the biggest markets are in Asia, but there’s a problem there. You see, global heating has altered the climate of Panama so much that it no longer has enough fresh water to float those enormous LNG tankers through the Panama Canal. Today, ships either make the passage through the canal with only two thirds of their normal cargo or they offload some at one end, ship it by rail across the isthmus, and reload int on the other side. Either way, the cost of shipping goes up substantially.

Doing The LNG Boogie All The Way To The Bank

Now follow along here, people. Burning methane gas contributes to a warming planet which in turn leads to droughts that affect international shipping. And yet the fossil fuel crowd wants to burn more of the stuff that caused an overheating planet in the first place. Ignorance can be cured by supplying needed information. There is no cure for willful stupidity, which is the principal commodity of the oil and gas industries today.

Bill McKibben quotes from a message today from climate activist Jeremy Symons who told supporters after the New York Times article was published, “I am heartened by several things in this article, including, critically, that the full array of LNG projects are potentially implicated. Also, this from the Times, ‘Within the White House, there is little division over the decision to delay CP2, in part because it is not seen as a major energy security issue, said people familiar with the discussion.

“That’s because the United States is already producing and exporting so much gas. That capacity is set to nearly double over the next four years, making the need for CP2 less urgent. As you all know, this is a sea change in how the administration has viewed LNG. It is not by any means a final victory, but we KNOW that the facts will win the day when given a fair hearing. We have never had a fair hearing, until now.”

The Takeaway

Reactionaries will couch this in terms of national security but it is anything but. If the issue is guaranteeing America has a supply of methane gas, the only solution is to save it for use in America, not sell it overseas. This is really a money grab by fossil fuel companies who smell enormous profits and could give a damn about the environment.

As someone named David said in a comment to the Times story, “Why would anyone in their right mind continue building infrastructure to support the collapse of our civilization due to climate change?” Amen to that.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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