Biden’s natural gas export pause fought over by U.S. House panel ⋆

Members of a U.S. House panel on climate and energy issues split along party lines Tuesday about the Biden administration’s recent move to pause new approvals of liquified natural gas exports.

Republicans called a hearing to challenge the Energy Department’s announcement last month that it would indefinitely bar new LNG permits to non-free-trade partners as it studies the impacts, including on climate change, of LNG use.

Republicans on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy, Climate and Grid Security blasted the move Tuesday, saying it undercut the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas and hurt the United States on the world stage.

Democrats countered that it was an appropriate time to review an industry that has tripled its export capacity in five years.

‘A handout to adversaries’

As global demand for LNG grows, the move from President Joe Biden’s administration would slow U.S. exports and allow the market to be filled with energy products from hostile nations like Russia and Iran, subcommittee Chair Jeff Duncan, a South Carolina Republican, said.

“The Biden administration’s energy policy has been a handout to our adversaries,” he said.

Full Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican, said the industry employed hundreds of thousands and was responsible for billions of dollars in economic activity.

“President Biden’s LNG export ban will end these benefits for local economies, kill American jobs and increase energy prices,” she said.

Toby Z. Rice, the president and CEO of natural gas producer EQT Corp., told the panel he viewed the move as a ban, not a short-term pause. The policy would slow the industry, he said.

“I think this is a signal that will chill investments,” he said.

Eric Cormier, a senior vice president at the business coalition Southwest Louisiana Chamber Economic Development Alliance, said a slowdown in the industry would harm other businesses, especially in the leading region for LNG exports.

“When the administration announced its decision, my cell phone rang quite a bit,” he said. “Small business owners were panicking.”

Cormier said his group “adamantly disagrees” with the pause.

LNG advocates also say the product is cleaner than coal and other fossil fuels it can replace.

And U.S. natural gas is 40% cleaner than what Russia produces, Rodgers said.

Time to ‘take a hard look’

Democrats argued it was prudent to study the climate impacts of LNG and described the pause as a relatively modest step that would provide a better analysis of the tradeoffs of natural gas production.

The Energy Department’s analysis for LNG authorizations was last updated in 2018, when the U.S. industry exported one-third of natural gas it has capacity for today, subcommittee ranking Democrat Diana DeGette of Colorado said.

The pause does not affect projects already constructed or projects that have gained Energy Department approval. It wouldn’t change a projection that LNG production would again double in the next 10 years, DeGette said.

“The fact that our nation’s production has ramped up so quickly must be considered, especially since the U.S. currently has enough approved capacity to fulfill the world’s energy needs in the short and medium terms,” she said. “Continuously increasing LNG exports without updating guidelines to account for new information is a fundamentally unserious proposal.”

The pause would allow the department to gain a wider view of all the potential benefits and drawbacks of new proposals and better assess what projects “are actually in the public interest,” DeGette said.

“Looking out to the future, as the estimates are that the exports could double, it is an appropriate time for the administration to take a hard look on what the impacts are going to be,” Florida Democrat Kathy Castor said.

Gillian Giannetti, a senior attorney with the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, called the pause “a moderate but important” step. She said it was consistent with the requirement in federal law that new natural gas export approvals are only permitted if they are found to be in the public interest.

Russia debate

Duncan and Rodgers said the pause would help Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country is a leading producer of natural gas.

If the U.S. share of global supply declines, Russian natural gas could fill the gap, they said.

Even if Russia’s market share doesn’t grow, the global price impact of reduced U.S. supply could make Russian exports more valuable, allowing Putin to pump more money into a war effort against Ukraine, Kentucky Republican Brett Guthrie said.

Brigham McCown, the director of the Initiative on American Security at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, agreed with that premise.

“The world is going to get its LNG from somewhere,” McCown said. “And if not from us, it’s going to be from other, less stable, less reliable partners like Russia.”

But Democrats questioned Republicans’ commitment to taking Ukraine’s side in its war with Russia.

Most of the Republicans on the panel opposed a Ukraine aid package when it came up for a vote, the full committee ranking Democrat, Frank Pallone of New Jersey, said.

DeGette noted Republicans were set to vote Tuesday afternoon on an aid package that did not include funding for Ukraine.

Energy state Democrats more skeptical

While leading Energy and Commerce Democrats praised the pause Tuesday, it has not won universal acclaim from all members of the party.

Pennsylvania’s U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman, both Democrats, declared in a statement last week that Pennsylvania was “an energy state” and said they were concerned about the effects of the pause.

“While the immediate impacts on Pennsylvania remain to be seen, we have concerns about the long-term impacts that this pause will have on the thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry,” they said. “If this decision puts Pennsylvania energy jobs at risk, we will push the Biden Administration to reverse this decision.”

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, a longtime supporter of fossil fuels who is reportedly considering a third-party presidential campaign on a centrist platform, strongly criticized the measure and scheduled a hearing later this week to examine the issue.

authored by Jacob Fischler
First published at

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