More than 40 U.S. lawmakers signed a letter Monday to "sound the alarm" on the recent expansion of liquefied natural gas infrastructure and capacity and call on the Biden administration to give "greater scrutiny" to the LNG supply chain from wellhead to shipping overseas.
The legislators letter toCouncil on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Brenda Mallory comes amidst an uptick in LNG exports from the U.S. to Europe in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Climate campaigners have warned that fossil fuel companies have used the war and subsequent energy crisis as an excuse to lock in more LNG infrastructure that could push the 1.5°C temperature goal out of reach and hasten more extreme climate impacts.
"Our ability to combat the worst impacts of the climate crisis depends, to a significant degree, on whether the United States approves proposed LNG pipeline and export terminal projects on top of the already-substantial LNG infrastructure," the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
"Even without including upstream leaks, the continued buildout of LNG infrastructure is at odds with the Paris climate goals and U.S. climate commitments."
The CEQ is currently finalizing its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Guidance on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and Climate Change, which would advise federal agencies on how to assess proposed infrastructure projects' contribution to the climate crisis, The Washington Postexplained. The administration of former President Donald Trump issued a rollback in 2020 mandating that federal agencies considering projects under NEPA should not take their "indirect" climate impacts into account.
While the Biden administration has already reversed this rule, it is now working on more detailed instructions. The lawmakers want to make sure these updated instructions consider LNG's true impact both on the climate and on frontline communities.
"Existing LNG infrastructure already has a disproportionate impact on Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities; this will only be exacerbated with the addition of the proposed projects. That's why it is important that frontline communities are meaningfully and proactively engaged throughout environmental reviews for LNG infrastructure," the letter writers continued.
The effort was spearheaded by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) along with U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.). The lawmakers were joined by 40 of their colleagues from both houses, all Democrats except for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Merkley tweeted Monday that he was joining with Huffman, Grijalva, and Barragán "to sound the alarm on the great threat that continued expansion of liquefied fossil gas (LNG) infrastructure poses to our climate and future."
One major concern raised by the lawmakers is methane. Federal agencies are still approving projects based on a Trump administration public-interest determination that compares LNG to coal-fired electricity without considering methane leaks from LNG infrastructure, the lawmakers noted. However, since methane traps around 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere, these leaks could make LNG even more damaging for the climate than coal.
"Even without including upstream leaks, the continued buildout of LNG infrastructure is at odds with the Paris climate goals and U.S. climate commitments," the lawmakers wrote.
A recent Greenpeace investigation found that LNG projects approved in the U.S. could emit more than the 2030 carbon budget allocated by the International Energy Agency to the entire LNG trade if policymakers are to limit warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.
"An expansion of U.S. liquified natural gas infrastructure threatens more damage to our climate and communities," Rep. Barragán tweeted.
The lawmakers called on CEQ to develop a review process just for LNG, with participation from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, the Department of State, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and others. This process should consider cradle-to-grave LNG impacts on both the climate and frontline communities.
In addition, they argued CEQ should make sure that agencies actually consider lifecycle emissions from LNG and set fair prices if it and the State Department decide to increase exports for emergency scenarios like the war in Ukraine.
"We urge that the price of natural gas sold to our allies is sufficient to cover production and delivery costs, but no higher, so as to remove any potential for war-time profiteering and to remove the incentives to continue exports after the short-term foreign policy needs have expired," the lawmakers wrote.