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Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

What You Need to Know About the Pause on New LNG Projects

Communities have long spoken out on the dangers of LNG, and this announcement shows the Biden administration is listening. Now, DOE must cut American reliance on dirty, polluting fossil fuels once and for all.

Calcasieu Pass LNG facility in Cameron Parish, Louisiana (© 2023 FracTracker Alliance/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

The climate movement and frontline advocates and communities just won a huge victory. 

On January 26, the Biden administration announced a historic decision to temporarily pause approvals for proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) export terminal licenses across the country until it revamps how it analyzes the climate impacts.

We’ve known for decades that addressing the core of the climate crisis hinges upon our transition away from dirty fossil fuels. And while Big Oil tries to sugarcoat LNG by sneaking “natural” into the name, there’s nothing natural about the damage this polluting fossil fuel does to frontline communities. For far too long, the U.S. has enabled the whims of the fossil fuel industry by exporting more and more LNG, all at the expense of American families and our climate. 

This announcement offers a new path forward. It shows that President Biden is willing to take a stand against the fossil fuel industry and its exploitation of local communities and our planet. This is what delivering on a promise to slash climate pollution looks like. 

This hard-won victory is the direct result of a sustained, powerful campaign by grassroots organizers in the Gulf, who have long led this fight. Export facilities are often intentionally sited in communities of color on the Gulf Coast. These hard-hit communities are—and have been—the ones leading the way—showing us how to hold extractive, polluting industries accountable, and continuing to lead the ongoing fight in the review process ahead.

@roishettasibleyozane When we fight, we win. We collected signatures, wrote letters, and penned op-eds. We were even prepared to stage a sit-in if the Biden Administration didn't take a bold stance and put a stop to the permitting of export facilities, with CP2 being the worst of them all. And guess what? We won. You may wonder, why is a 'pause' considered a victory? Couldn't the administration simply reject these facilities outright? Well, here's the thing: there's no legal way for the administration to outright reject the facilities. If the Department of Energy (DOE) attempted to do so, it would be swiftly overturned in the courts. So, a pause is actually the most effective strategy to halt these facilities. It's legally bulletproof. The DOE has been relying on faulty information, and this pause forces them to reassess their process for approving these projects. This pause is a significant achievement because it paves the way for potential rejections and slows down the projects, making it harder for them to secure financing. As a result, we have decided to call off the sit-in, as the administration has granted our request. Now, our focus shifts to the next steps. We're requesting a meeting with the White House and the DOE to discuss how the public interest determination should be made and how frontline communities can actively participate in the process. So, for now, let's celebrate this victory. But remember, the fight must continue. #vesselprojectoflouisiana #enoughisenough #nolng ♬ original sound - Roishetta Sibley Ozane

At the crux of this announcement is a technical detail: The Department of Energy (DOE) is using this time to review its criteria for determining if these climate polluting-mega projects are in the “public interest.” Much of the nuance of this decision—how DOE chooses to proceed and what we can expect in the fight ahead—rests in this phrase.  

First, let’s dive into what this means, along with the context that makes this announcement so important for our public health, energy security, and climate. 

 

LNG Export Terminals Aren’t Remotely in the Public Interest

In recent years, the U.S. has emerged as the world’s top exporter of liquified methane gas, also misleadingly branded as liquified “natural” gas (LNG). But making the podium on this particular metric is a race to the bottom. The fossil fuel industry shoulders the blame, having led a decades-long push to expand fracking and export terminals in frontline communities, even as the climate crisis rages on. 

You don’t have to look far to see that America’s LNG boom has come at the cost of the frontline communities disproportionately bearing the burden, our public health, and our climate. 

Environmental justice advocates, especially those based in the Gulf Coast region, have warned for years that communities living near oil and gas facilities are being poisoned by dangerous cancer- and disease-causing air pollution and are witnessing ecosystems pushed to the brink of collapse. Many proposed and existing LNG export terminals are sited near Black, Brown, and low-income communities, like in Port Arthur, Texas or Lake Charles, Louisiana. 

Building out LNG export terminals continues our nation’s unacceptable legacy of “sacrifice zones.” At the same time, these terminals export America’s climate pollution to the world, peddling planet-warming emissions and dangerous air pollution to the importing countries and communities. 

We know that new LNG export terminals are incompatible with a healthy, livable planet. Don’t be fooled by Big Oil and Gas’ profit-hungry greenwashing: LNG isn’t a safer option or a “bridge fuel”—it’s a bridge to climate disaster that will only prolong our reliance on fossil fuels. 

LNG export terminals spew out harmful air pollutants that poison communities, while its production emits methane pollution, a potent and planet-warming greenhouse gas. A recent study found that once the full lifecycle impacts, including methane leakage, are taken into account, so-called “natural” gas could contribute as much to planetary warming as—get this—coal

Another report found that if all LNG projects were approved, their greenhouse gas pollution would amount to 3.9 gigatons annually, roughly equivalent to over 1,000 coal-fired power plants and greater than the collective climate pollution generated by the E.U.

Factoring these mammoth emissions, our nearing 1.5 Celsius threshold, and the cost of human lives, the math of building more LNG export terminals clearly doesn’t add up. And that’s where DOE’s public interest determination comes in.

 

What Is DOE’s Public Interest Determination and Why Does It Matter?  

To understand why the Biden administration’s public interest determination announcement is so significant, we need a quick legal lesson.

Let’s say the fossil fuel industry wants to build a new LNG export terminal. (Spoiler alert: That’s exactly what’s happening across the country.) Under the Natural Gas Act, DOE is only allowed to permit exports that are “not inconsistent with the public interest.” And if the U.S. doesn’t have an existing Free Trade Agreement with a country, DOE is required to carry out something called a public interest determination.

But, here’s the thing: The last review of LNG export projects was updated by the Trump administration back in 2018, and that review failed to seriously engage with the climate crisis and frontline community harms. Since then, the fossil fuel industry has continued exploiting American communities through the fracking boom. Frontline leaders have been raising the alarm about how export terminals are harming public health in their communities. But, despite these warnings, and as we barrel toward a full-blown climate crisis, LNG exports have skyrocketed.

Amidst, and despite, all of these public crises, DOE has never rejected an LNG export application on the basis of harm to the public interest. Clearly, it’s time to update the public interest determination criteria to respond to the manifold crises our communities are experiencing.

Enter the Biden administration’s historic announcement. The administration announced that it was pausing approvals for pending and future applications for LNG export projects with which the U.S. doesn’t have Free Trade Agreements. And even better, DOE has committed to re-evaluating the criteria it uses to make determinations, including updating how it considers climate change impacts. Notably, this decision showed that the climate crisis can no longer be ignored in what previously were routine decisions to greenlight oil and gas projects and that polluting industries cannot continue operating without considering the health, safety, and well-being of those living nearby.

 

All Hands on Deck for the Next Fight

But the road doesn’t end here. In fact, DOE’s announcement kicks off a review process at DOE, in which the agency is expected to submit new analysis for public comment in the coming months. During this time, the most important voices will be frontline communities who have experienced direct harm from LNG terminals and have been leading this fight.

The call to action is clear: DOE must fully account for the true costs to climate, communities, and public health. Because at the end of the day, no fair analysis could possibly conclude that poisoning communities and accelerating the climate crisis are in the public interest—particularly when clean, zero-emission technology is readily available. 

And we need to stay vigilant. Already, Big Oil and Gas CEOs, and the politicians in their pockets, are mounting their usual faux outrage campaign spreading lies to distract from their responsibility and seeding doubt among the public. They’re using our allies in Europe as a scapegoat to expand exports, which couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, there’s enough LNG supply projected in the global marketplace to meet Europe’s needs. On top of this, Europe is decarbonizing anyway, because its leaders recognize being dependent on fossil fuel is the real threat—without the U.S. rubberstamping more planet-warming export terminals. And because of this, Europe’s gas demand is projected to structurally decline over the next two decades.

And if you listen to European leaders, not the lies of the fossil fuel industry, they’re actually saying the exact opposite: 60 members of the EU Parliament and national legislatures released an open letter to President Biden that welcomed reports of a pause. Let’s be clear: The only long-term solution for secure, affordable energy is a transition to a 100 percent clean energy economy. Doubling down on volatile, climate-harming energy sources does nothing for energy security, domestically or globally. 

The Biden administration has shown that they’re willing to meet the global commitment to transition away from fossil fuels and confront the fossil fuel industry and climate crisis head-on. Now, it’s our job to hold them to this word and ensure that this review is done right—in the real interest of the public and the planet.

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This announcement was a huge step forward in building a clean energy economy that supports healthy communities, but the fight isn’t over. Join our email list to stay informed of ways you can stand up to Big Oil and Gas, dirty utilities, and corporate polluters.

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