LNG protest

Activists protest against fracked gas exports on June 15, 2022, in New York City.

(Photo: John Smith/VIEWpress)

This Could Be Start of the Biggest Climate Victory of All

Yes, there are always devils in the details. And it doesn’t guarantee long-term victory, but it sets up a process where victory is possible.

A few minutes ago The New York Times moved a story saying that the White House has decided to pause permitting for new LNG terminals—if it’s true, and I think it is, this is the biggest thing a U.S. president has ever done to stand up to the fossil fuel industry.

The Times story begins with the next project in line, the mammoth CP2 export terminal planned for Louisiana:

The Energy Department is required to weigh whether the export terminal is in “the public interest,” a subjective determination. But now, the White House has requested an additional analysis of the climate impacts of CP2.

Natural gas, which is primarily composed of methane, is cleaner than coal when it is burned. But methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas in the short term, compared with carbon dioxide, and it can leak anywhere along the supply chain, from the production wellhead to processing plants to the stovetop. The process of liquefying gas to make it suitable for transport is incredibly energy intensive as well, creating yet more emissions.

Whatever new criteria is used to evaluate CP2 would be expected to be applied to the other 16 proposed natural gas terminals that are awaiting approval.

Yes, there are always devils in the details. And it doesn’t guarantee long-term victory—it sets up a process where victory is possible (to this point, the industry has gotten every permit they’ve asked for). But I have a beer in my hand. If the administration backtracks, it will be a disappointment of epic proportion that I can’t imagine them doing it. Here’s what veteran energy analyst Jeremy Symons, who has been a rock in this fight, just emailed campaigners:

I am heartened by several things in this article, including, critically, that the full array of LNG projects are potentially implicated. Also, this: "Within the White House, there is little division over the decision to delay CP2, in part because it is not seen as a major energy security issue, said people familiar with the discussion. That’s because the United States is already producing and exporting so much gas. That capacity is set to nearly double over the next four years, making the need for CP2 less urgent."

As you all know, this is a sea change in how the administration has viewed LNG. It is not by any means a final victory, but we KNOW that the facts will win the day when given a fair hearing. We have never had a fair hearing, until now.

One reason to think the Times story is correct is that the right wing is already screaming. Mitch McConnell took to the floor of the Senate to say

“This move would amount to a functional ban on new LNG export permits,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “The administration’s war on affordable domestic energy has been bad news for American workers and consumers alike.”

As usual, he’s wrong. Exporting natural gas of course drives the price up for American consumers. That’s how economics work—so President Joe Biden’s stand is an actual live inflation reduction act.

And the only other argument that the fossil fuel industry has mustered—that Europe needs more gas in the wake of Putin’s invasion—is simply wrong. We’re already sending them plenty—the world is awash in cheap gas. As Ben Jealous (head of the Sierra Club and former head of the NAACP) said in The Washington Post this morning:

the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis makes clear that European demand for natural gas will steadily drop in the years ahead, because the continent, in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, dramatically stepped up its conversion to renewable energy.

This decision is brave, because Donald Trump (the man who pulled us out of the Paris climate accords on the grounds that climate change is a hoax) will attack it mercilessly. But it’s also very very savvy: Biden wants young people, who care about climate above all, in his corner. They were angry about his dumb approval of the Willow oil project in Alaska. CP2 alone would produce 20 times the greenhouse gas emissions of Willow. And of course everyone understands that if Biden is not reelected this win means nothing—it will disappear on day one when the ‘dictator’ begins his relentless campaign to ‘drill drill drill.’

I’m holding my breath as I type this post. After pouring my heart into this fight for the last six months it seems almost too good to be true. But there are people who have been pouring their hearts into it for much longer than that. I just got off the phone with the marvelous Roishetta Ozane and she was in tears of joy, so I soon joined her in that condition. There’s James Hiatt, John Beard, Travis Dardar, Ann Rolfes, and many many more like them down on the Gulf, and people like Rev Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus who are at home both in the bayous and in the D.C. swamp. There’s the wonder-workers at Third Act who started conjuring together what now looks like it may be an unnecessary protest action in D.C. next month—even this morning they were wrestling with questions like “can we use upper bunkbeds to house people coming for the protest?” There’s a huge pick-up crew of hardy souls from the big environmental groups like NRDC, LCV, and all the other mighty initials; there are TikTok magicians like Alex Haraus; and there are and remarkable behind-the-scenes coordinators like Jamie Henn and Maura Cowley. I could go on almost endlessly, and I imagine I will in the weeks ahead.

The Times gave me entirely too much credit (and, ironically, so did The Wall Street Journal yesterday in their editorial opposing this move, where they called me “chief climate lobbyist”). It was actually, well, you who rose to the call. When I started writing about this at summer’s end, it was hard to get people all that interested in “LNG export,” which does not sound on its face like that sexy a topic. But man did you go to work—writing letters, making calls, signing up to go to jail. I just want to say thanks. This community gets things done.

When we fight, we sometimes win. More often than I’d guess, actually.

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