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Republicans, gas industry pressure Biden to end pause on new natural gas export permits

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., speaks during a news conference on the Administration's pause on LNG exports, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Mariam Zuhaib
/
AP
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., speaks during a news conference on the Administration's pause on LNG exports, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

A coalition of Republicans and advocates for the natural gas industry are pressuring the Biden administration to end its recent pause on permitting for new gas export plants.

In late January, the Department of Energy announced it would stop considering new facilities while it examines whether the fossil fuel industry’s massive push to ship more American gas overseas is in the public’s interest.

The pause will remain in place until the agency completes its review of economic, climate and health implications.

The vast majority of the proposed gas export plants are concentrated on the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas. The U.S. has become the world’s largest gas exporter since President Biden took office, tripling its exports in just two years.

Three projects under construction in the two states could double the country’s capacity again by the end of the decade. And exports could climb even higher if a dozen other projects that have already been approved move forward.

Under the pause, those projects and ongoing exports will continue. But, during hearings this week, Republican lawmakers across the U.S. House and Senate, including Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, argued that’s not enough.

“This policy is a war on the American worker,” Cassidy said during the Senate Energy committee meeting on Thursday.

An aerial view of Calcasieu Pass LNG, another Venture Global LNG gas export plant, which is under construction in Cameron Parish where the Calcasieu Shipping Channel meets the Gulf of Mexico.
Halle Parker
/
WWNO + Southwings
An aerial view of Calcasieu Pass LNG, another Venture Global LNG gas export plant, which is under construction in Cameron Parish where the Calcasieu Shipping Channel meets the Gulf of Mexico.

Cassidy and other Republican lawmakers said the pause could chill investment in new U.S. plants and threaten the jobs that the enormous plants could create if the companies move forward.

The proposed expansion for which companies are seeking federal permits would require a build-out of huge export terminals that supercool natural gas and turn it into liquified natural gas, or LNG, that can then be transported by ship overseas.

Louisiana has three LNG plants and a fourth on the way. The pause came after climate activists and Gulf Coast residents living near the plants held protests and called on the Biden administration to slow the build-out and look more closely at the long-term contribution these plants make to global warming.

Last year, the U.S. Energy Information Agency — the country’s independent energy analysts — foundthat increased LNG exports reduce supply in the domestic market, driving up energy prices for Americans.

At Thursday’s Senate hearing, one of Biden’s top energy officials faced an onslaught of criticism from lawmakers and industry advocates. The hearing was interrupted momentarily by climate activists opposing the gas expansion, wearing shirts reading, “LNG kills.”

Committee chair Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, joined with Republicans on the committee in asking the Energy Department to conduct its review without pausing consideration of new permits.

In addition to threatening jobs, the group argued the pause hurts national security and U.S. allies who import the country’s LNG, such as Europe, Japan and South Korea.

Energy Department Deputy Sec. David Turk said the department’s analysis will help the agency answer outstanding questions about the 17 pending applications sitting on its desk. He also noted that the governments of European countries haven’t opposed the pause.

The day before the White House announced the decision, the European Commission — which governs the European Union — said the pause wouldn’t affect the EU’s energy security in the short- or mid-term. It also said the Energy Department notified the commission of the move in advance.

A liquefied natural gas tanker docks at Venture Global's Calcasieu Pass LNG, an export facility that started operating last year on the coast of Cameron Parish, Louisiana.
Halle Parker
/
WWNO
A liquefied natural gas tanker docks at Venture Global's Calcasieu Pass LNG, an export facility that started operating last year on the coast of Cameron Parish, Louisiana.

“Of course, industry associations would want even more gas and would want to have even more exports coming from the U.S. We're just asking questions with this pause,” Turk said, noting Congress gave the department a responsibility to assess whether sending more American gas overseas is good for the U.S. as a whole. “Especially how this impacts U.S. consumers, U.S. farmers, U.S. manufacturers and our competitive advantage right now.”

Between this week’s hearings, nearly two dozen Republican attorneys general launched their own objections to the freeze in a letter sent to the White House on Tuesday, calling the pause “unlawful.” Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill was one of the signees.

The letter laid out a legal argument against the pause, suggesting that a lawsuit could be in the works if the Biden administration maintains its position.

“Although your administration has put this country in a difficult situation through this LNG ‘pause,’ you still have time to change course,” the letter said. “Your administration does not have to recklessly continue down an unlawful path that harms our economic and national security interests. You can and must reverse course by immediately ending this ‘pause.’”

At Thursday’s hearing, Turk didn’t give a specific timeline for the analysis but said it would be conducted “on the order of months, not years.”

The Energy Department will partner with the National Laboratories on the review, and the public will have a chance to comment once the review is finished.

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Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at hparker@wwno.org.