LNG Tanker

A tanker carries liquefied natural gas.

(Photo by Focke Strangmann/AFP via Getty Images)

How Can Biden Boost His 2024 Chances? Halt LNG Exports

Given that inflation and the youth vote are two of Biden’s biggest problems right now, maybe he’ll seize the moment.

I’ve never seen a national environmental campaign arise so quickly.

In coastal Louisiana and Texas people have been working hard for years to oppose the ongoing build-out of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals. But they didn’t get much traction nationally—something that’s changing very fast. Earlier Tuesday I joined Senators and Representatives from across the country in a press conference aimed squarely at convincing the administration to halt new licenses for LNG export; they were all friends of the president, and they were convinced that the cause is hugely significant on political grounds as well as environmental ones.

That’s because Biden is doing badly in the polls, somehow trailing his predecessor in polls of all the swing states. One place he’s really suffering is with young voters, and young voters care more than any others about the climate.

If Biden uses his authority to deny export licenses, then he will also be able to legitimately say he has also done more than any other predecessor to shut down the fossil fuel geyser.

There are, of course, two halves to the climate fight. We need to rapidly wind down dirty energy and rapidly wind up clean alternatives. On the clean energy front, Biden can legitimately claim to have done far more than anyone before him—the Inflation Reduction Act is a landmark.

As for standing up to dirty energy, Biden gets poor marks so far. For two years you could perhaps excuse it—he needed Joe Manchin’s vote to get the IRA through. But earlier this year he approved the big new Willow oil complex for Alaska, despite a valiant campaign by young people, waged mostly on Tik Tok. (One imagines Joe doesn’t spend a huge amount of time on Tik Tok…). It was a profound mistake, and my sense from talking to the administration is that if they had a do-over they’d scrap it.

The closest they’ll get to a second chance is this rapidly emerging fight against LNG exports. And in fact, it’s a much bigger deal even than Willow. Just the next project on block, the CP2 terminal slated for Cameron Parish Louisiana, would produce 20 times the greenhouse gas emissions of Willow. If they build out the next 19 projects in line, the total greenhouse gas emissions from exported U.S. LNG would be larger than the greenhouse gas footprint of… Europe. New data from Cornell’s Bob Howarth, repeatedly cited in yesterday’s press conference by all those politicians, shows that LNG is much worse than coal.

So, if Biden uses his authority to deny export licenses, then he will also be able to legitimately say he has also done more than any other predecessor to shut down the fossil fuel geyser.That counts as a big fracking deal. It would be a win

But wait there’s more. The reason Democratic presidents always hesitate to take on the fossil fuel industry is fear that they’ll be vilified for raising energy prices. In this case, though, since the LNG is set for export, blocking new export facilities will lower the domestic price of natural gas. He will be legitimately be able to say that he’s cut costs for those Americans still dependent on gas furnaces and cookstoves. It will be an actual inflation reduction act.

Don’t believe me? (I know you believe me, I’m just employing a lazy rhetorical device, because it’s been a long day). When a fire knocked out one export terminal last year, prices for Americans quickly dropped. Or here are a couple of recent statements by gas providers, explaining to their customers why prices are going up (thanks to Clark Williams-Derry of IEEFA for sending them my way). Rocky Mountain Power, for instance, explaining to the Wyoming public service commission why they need a 30% rate hike: As exports have grown, “the increased competition over domestic supply has driven regional natural gas fuel prices upward.”

Or here’s Spire, a Missouri utility: “Recent international events impacting the global supply of natural gas mean it costs more for Spire to purchase natural gas for our customers.”

Williams-Derry even made a chart to illustrate the way American’s prices for natural gas have begun to oscillate wildly as exports soared:

Translated, all this means that a Biden decision to restrict new approvals for natural gas exports would cut prices for Americans. Not “environmentalists,” which for some reason are treated as a special interest (we’re the only ones who depend on the environment, apparently). But for honest-to-God good old-fashioned American consumers.

Given that inflation and the youth vote are two of Biden’s biggest problems right now, maybe he’ll seize the moment. Let’s hope so. The Earth can’t live with that flood of methane and carbon into the atmosphere, and America can’t take another four years of Trump in the White House. Time for a little winning.

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