A figure widely reviled in progressive circles for his past efforts to drag the Democratic Party to the right on climate and other issues is using his current position as the U.S. ambassador to Japan—and his extensive ties to the corporate world—to help secure funding for a major gas export project in Alaska that the Biden administration is supporting despite its pledge to rein in planet-warming emissions.
The American Prospect's Lee Harris reported Wednesday that Rahm Emanuel, who previously served as White House chief of staff in the Obama administration and was the mayor of Chicago for eight years, "hosted a summit last October" on the Alaska gas project "with investors including Goldman Sachs and BlackRock, and is expected to continue his promo tour with next week’s keynote address at the Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference."
"The Alaska LNG Project, which would help the U.S. sell more gas to Asia, has struggled for years to raise capital, despite billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees," Harris noted. "Oil companies ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and BP pulled out of the project in 2014, after a natural gas supply glut caused prices to collapse."
Climate advocates voiced outrage—but not surprise—over Emanuel's role in boosting the project, which got a crucial green light from the Biden Energy Department last month.
"Rahm Emanuel did more than any single individual to sabotage Barack Obama's climate agenda at a time when there were congressional majorities," Lukas Ross, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth, told the Prospect. "It comes as no surprise to find him 13 years later trying to light the fuse of a massive carbon bomb."
Harris noted that the $40 billion project would "include multiple interlocking pieces of infrastructure: a gas processing facility with carbon capture and an export terminal, connected by 800 miles of pipeline across melting permafrost."
Proposed by the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC), the project could result in more than 50 million metric tons of new planet-warming emissions each year if it's completed.
Politicoreported earlier this month that Emanuel's "continued promotion of the project [has] helped ease foreign buyers' fears that the Biden administration would abruptly kill the project."
Earlier this week, Sierra Club and Earthjusticeformally requested a rehearing of the Department of Energy's decision to approve methane gas exports from the Alaska project, which the groups said would "exacerbate the climate crisis by locking in decades of increased gas extraction."
"Claiming that a project like this could possibly be in the public interest isn't just out of step with the Biden administration's stated commitment to climate action—it's out of step with reality," said Andrea Feniger, chapter director of Sierra Club Alaska.
But as Harris detailed, the Biden administration has "expanded existing guarantees to move risks associated with Alaska LNG onto the public balance sheet."
"In 2004, the Natural Gas Pipeline Act authorized up to $18 billion in loan guarantees for the Alaska project, meaning the government would act as a backstop to assure lenders that they would be repaid. That commitment, which was indexed to inflation, is worth nearly $30 billion in guaranteed debt today," Harris explained. "The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021 sweetened the deal. The 2004 law would have required that the Alaska project send gas to the continental United States to be eligible for subsidies. But an IIJA amendment allowed any project that exports natural gas from Alaska’s North Slope, including outside the U.S., to qualify."
Harris added that the project could also benefit—to the tune of billions of dollars—from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which "dialed up federal subsidies for carbon capture in the Section 45Q tax credit."
The IRA was heavily influenced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the fossil fuel industry's top allies in Congress.
Harris reported that Emanuel is "selling the Alaska gas complex as a blunt political instrument," citing a recent Wall Street Journalop-ed in which he wrote that "if America, Australia, and other friends can supply the majority of Japan's LNG needs, why would Japan need to rely on its adversaries?"—pointing specifically to Russia.
"The U.S. already supplies Japan with 10% of its LNG, and we are ready to do more," Emanuel declared.
By working to boost U.S. gas exports, Harris wrote, Emanuel is "working on behalf of senators from fossil fuel states, including Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who in March wrote a letter complaining of 'excessive restrictions on public financing of gas projects and unnecessary delays in approving privately-financed projects.'"