The climate and global equity impacts of the mass expansion of U.S. LNG exports cannot be understated.
In a welcome move, the Biden Administration’s Department of Energy (DOE) has opted to pause the approval of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) exports to non-Free Trade Agreement (nFTA) countries while the agency works to develop new criteria for determining whether to approve gas exports. This decision bears significant implications for communities directly impacted by gas export infrastructure, communities disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change, and energy consumers—particularly those with high energy burdens. The Administration’s announcement is worth celebrating, but the impact of these reforms will depend on the breadth and depth of DOE’s analysis, as well as the agency’s willingness to create meaningful opportunities for public participation.
LNG production and export facilities are regularly proposed and sited in low-income communities, communities of color, and Indigenous and tribal lands. Communities most impacted by the production of exported gas often face disproportionate cumulative impacts of pollution and associated health burdens including asthma, lung and cardiovascular disease, cancer, preterm births, and premature deaths. Other impacts related to the exports of fossil gas include visual and pervasive light impacts from facilities, sound impacts, and (particularly in the Gulf where projects are often sited) disruption of heritage industries such as commercial fishing and shrimping. Moreover, many of these communities face the first and worst impacts of climate change-attributable extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and floods that threaten community safety and resilience.
From climate justice to community health, cost impacts, and public participation, the benefits of this decision reverberate across communities who are all too accustomed to being sidelined and overlooked.
The announced temporary halt on new nFTA export authorizations may provide some much-needed reprieve for impacted communities who currently expend outsized time and resources advocating for their health, safety, resilience, culture, and self-determination. Communities along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coasts are already disproportionately burdened by the existing LNG export infrastructure and the under-construction projects not impacted by DOE’s pause (not to mention the dozens of refineries and petrochemical facilities.) These harms cannot be ignored and will still need to be addressed. But a promise to actually consider these disproportionate impacts before permitting new facilities in these same communities is a big step in the right direction. As DOE reviews its public interest guidelines, it must do so in a manner that requires the agency to take a hard look at the impacts of projects on impacted communities, particularly through the lenses of health, quality of life, and economic impacts.
The climate and global equity impacts of the mass expansion of U.S. LNG exports cannot be understated. The U.S. is forecast to have the largest increase of annual oil and gas production of any country in the world between now and 2030, and US LNG exports are the driving force behind US gas production growth. Meanwhile, multiple studies have shown that LNG is more GHG-intensive than initially estimated, due to methane leaks and other emissions along the supply chain: production, transport, liquefaction, shipping, and combustion. LNG facilities are built to last 20-40 years, locking in planet-warming emissions for decades. From hurricanes in Louisiana to wildfires in California, from flooding in Bangladesh to drought in Brazil, the impacts of climate change disproportionately affect underprivileged communities least able to deal with those impacts. In pausing new export approvals, the Biden Administration is signaling a willingness to seriously consider the global, unequal impact of U.S.-caused climate pollution.
The pause on new LNG export permits also gives DOE the opportunity to consider equity concerns related to energy burden and consumer costs. By reevaluating the impacts of such exports, DOE’s pause on exports is likely to have a direct, positive impact on energy consumers both domestically and abroad. A boom in LNG exports has strapped domestic consumers with rising costs, causing disproportionate harm to households that spend a large percentage of their income on energy (i.e. that have a “high energy burden”). DOE’s export pause stands to advance economic justice, but must be met with genuine studies on the economic impacts of gas exports. These analyses must replace illogical Trump-era studies concluding that all consumers stand to benefit from increased returns for LNG export stockholders, and they should evaluate the actual implications for public interest analyses when a proposed export would raise consumer costs.
DOE's decision also marks a positive step towards meaningful public participation in the context of LNG exports. Frontline communities and other stakeholders have championed the longstanding request to the DOE for updated fossil gas export guidelines; beginning with a public comment period that allows for community voices to weigh in on what reformed guidelines might look like. This aspect of DOE reform efforts is central to ensuring procedural justice, and the meaningful opportunity for the public to voice their concerns and share insights. DOE is positioned to create a new model for reimagining outdated and exclusive determinations and thresholds, one that pauses, addresses inequities and disparities, and invites diverse stakeholders to meaningfully participate in that reimagining process. Not only is this the right approach—it is the smart one—ensuring that the decision-making process is transparent, inclusive, and considers the diverse perspectives of those directly affected by energy policies.
The DOE's pause on LNG exports to Non-FTA countries signifies a crucial step towards embedding environmental justice at the core of energy policy decisions. From climate justice to community health, cost impacts, and public participation, the benefits of this decision reverberate across communities who are all too accustomed to being sidelined and overlooked. It is an encouraging sign that the Biden administration and DOE recognize the imperative to center the well-being of communities and the planet in their decision-making processes. Transitioning to a clean, renewable, future is a shared responsibility and today, the Biden administration, DOE, front and fenceline groups, and the environmental advocacy community partnered to meet the moment and spark change. Roishetta Ozane, Founder, Director, and CEO of The Vessel Project of Louisiana captured this sentiment in her reflections on the news stating “We will win. And the way we are going to win is together.”