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Encore: The U.S. may soon export more gas to the EU, complicating climate goals

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Because of Russia's war in Ukraine, Europe wants to stop buying Russian natural gas. And that could have implications here in the United States. More gas export terminals may be bought along the Gulf Coast to handle demand, which makes the Biden administration's climate goals harder to achieve. And as WWNO's Halle Parker reports, those new plants likely would be built in communities already living with pollution.

HALLE PARKER, BYLINE: Southwest Louisiana is a hub for casinos, culture and petrochemical refining. It's also been battered by hurricanes. The city of Lake Charles was struck by not one but two hurricanes in 2020. Roishetta Ozane still lives in a FEMA trailer - right next to one of the area's many petroleum plants.

ROISHETTA OZANE: The flares are large and so loud, and people can hear them all the way in Lake Charles. So that's the first thing we see in the morning, you know, industry.

PARKER: To drive her six children to school, Ozane passes through an industrial area in the city of Sulphur.

OZANE: It's called Sulphur for a reason. It smells horrible most days.

PARKER: Across the region, she says low-income Black neighborhoods are located next to plants burdened by those smells and chemicals every day. Ozane works as an organizer for the environmental nonprofit Healthy Gulf, advocating for the environmental justice communities President Joe Biden pledged to help. Now Ozane says residents are making the connection between these fossil fuel plants and climate change. As frustration has grown, Ozane's community meetings have, too, from just one or two people a year ago to a few dozen. And now they're protesting the prospect of more liquefied natural gas plants.

OZANE: They showed up to that hearing for Commonwealth, that was unheard of. People don't go to hearings around here. They're like, whatever. But they see folks are fighting for them.

PARKER: To export natural gas, it has to be supercooled, and that requires energy. One terminal could emit up to 10 million metric tons of greenhouse gases per year, according to state permits. That's about the same annual footprint as the entire country of Costa Rica.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

PARKER: There's already one liquefied natural gas export terminal under construction near the Gulf of Mexico, and at least nine others are proposed just in southwest Louisiana. Some have permits, but they're in limbo without financing yet. However, the Biden administration's push to boost gas exports to Europe to wean countries off Russian gas could bring more construction soon. Even the industry agrees Biden's export goals can be met with the seven plants already operating. But LNG Allies president Fred Hutchison argues even more global demand is coming.

FRED HUTCHISON: We've got these 10 projects that are fully permitted by the U.S. government, shovel ready. All they're waiting for is contracts. It'll take a few years once the go-ahead decisions are made, but we can do more. Question is, will we do more?

PARKER: Economist Clark Williams-Derry advocates for a faster transition to cleaner energy at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. He says those contracts would lock European countries into several more decades of relying on gas, hurting the world's ability to limit global warming.

CLARK WILLIAMS-DERRY: Building new infrastructure without clearly getting rid of or abating problems from the old infrastructure - that's just going to make that problem worse.

PARKER: And community organizer Roishetta Ozane says that's the exact opposite of what environmental justice communities need.

OZANE: If you care about those communities, you want to protect those communities, there's no way that you would be steadily agreeing to bring more things that harm those communities to them.

PARKER: And Ozane says residents aren't letting more plants come without a fight. For NPR News, I'm Halle Parker in Lake Charles, La.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "DAFFODIL PICKLES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.