Biden still wants to look like the climate president

Biden still wants to look like the climate president

The Atlantic reports:

All of a sudden, the U.S. has become the biggest liquid-natural-gas exporter in the world. Supplied by a souped-up hydraulic-fracturing industry, and spurred by Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has hampered European gas access, LNG export terminals are being built on a monumental scale throughout the U.S. Gulf Coast, in places so beset by climate disasters that homes there are now deemed uninsurable.

Shipping LNG abroad could be its own climate disaster, with questionable benefits: Recent research found that it may be worse for the environment than burning coal; other reports suggest that the build-out will quickly outpace future European demand or financially benefit global commodity traders over European consumers. These discrepancies have prompted questions about whether the Biden administration would step in to halt the infrastructure boom.

The answer was not obvious: America’s climate policy under President Joe Biden has been full of contradictions. Biden ran on a platform that presented him as the first climate president, then led the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest investment the U.S. has made in curbing climate change. He launched the American Climate Corps, set a new national goal to reduce emissions, and made moves to phase down super-pollutant HFCs and methane emissions. At the same time, he has supervised perhaps the single-most oil-and-gas-intensive year in U.S. history. America now produces more oil than any other country ever has. He granted a key permit for a gas pipeline in Appalachia maligned by activists for its threat to forests and waterways, and signed off on the Willow Project, a sprawling new $8 billion oil-drilling project on pristine federal lands in Alaska. Activists rightly called it a “carbon bomb,” and its approval left young voters embittered.

As of last summer, most Americans disapproved of Biden’s handling of climate change, per a July Washington Post–University of Maryland poll. Yet, in 2024, Biden still seems to want to present himself as the climate president. Today the White House announced that the administration would pause the approval process for LNG exports; as The New York Times previewed earlier this week, this decision has the potential to delay the largest of the proposed export terminals, known as CP2, in southwest Louisiana. The Department of Energy is responsible for determining whether infrastructure is in the public interest; the White House now says the analyses that go into those decisions do not adequately account for emissions that contribute to climate change. “This pause on new LNG approvals sees the climate crisis for what it is: the existential threat of our time,” the White House said in a statement.

This decision hands climate activists their swiftest victory in recent memory. Whereas fights against other “carbon bomb” projects, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, dragged on for years, the LNG fight was just gaining national momentum, with grassroots groups and major figures lining up behind it. “We’ve been pushing so hard for this,” James Hiatt, a former refinery worker in Louisiana who started his own organization last year to oppose the LNG build-out in his home state, told me. Several LNG terminals have been approved under a system that determines public interest without explicitly considering climate change; gas exports have also been driving up prices for gas consumers in the U.S. To Hiatt, nothing about that is in the public interest. Updating that determination to include the carbon and economic impacts may delay projects for months or indefinitely.

Sixteen other proposed terminals like CP2 could eventually be affected by the administration’s new public-interest evaluation. Hiatt said he would like to see clear confirmation that any new analysis applies to all of those. The petroleum industry is already signing letters to oppose any delays in approving exports. And Biden has likely teed up a legal fight. But clearly, his administration felt it would be worth it. [Continue reading…]

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