President Joe Biden has pumped the brakes on a massive fossil fuel project deeply despised among climate voters ahead of the November presidential election.
Calcasieu Pass 2 (CP2), planned to be the biggest natural gas export terminal in the country, is being delayed for further evaluation of its impacts on the climate crisis and other issues, The New York Times first reported on Wednesday.
On Friday, President Biden confirmed a temporary pause on all pending decisions of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) exports, except in national security emergencies.
“During this period, we will take a hard look at the impacts of LNG exports on energy costs, America’s energy security, and our environment. This pause on new LNG approvals sees the climate crisis for what it is: the existential threat of our time,” Mr Biden said.
“While MAGA Republicans willfully deny the urgency of the climate crisis, condemning the American people to a dangerous future, my Administration will not be complacent. We will not cede to special interests. We will heed the calls of young people and frontline communities who are using their voices to demand action from those with the power to act.”
Voters, particularly young people who prioritise climate issues, backed Mr Biden in the 2020 election after he promised to fight the “existential” battle of the climate crisis. However, they have become increasingly disillusioned after major oil and gas operations have been greenlit including the vast Willow project in Alaska.
Even as the US touted itself as a climate leader on the global stage, it remained the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas, or LNG, outstripping its closest competitors, Qatar and Australia. Most of the US-produced LNG is going to Europe after the bloc weaned itself off Russian gas in the wake of the Ukraine war.
Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is largely made of methane – which has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the short term. At the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai last month, US presidential climate envoy John Kerry emphasised the importance of cutting methane emissions to keep the global goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees within reach.
With a dozen LNG terminals already operating or under construction in the US, the fossil fuel industry has laid out proposals to build a dozen more facilities from Texas to Florida. Opponents say the facilities threaten the local economy including fishing communities, harm local ecosystems and public health, and raise energy costs.
CP2, which the company Venture Global is planning to build in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, would be the largest of the lot.
At full volume, burning that much gas would add up to 190 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere each year – equivalent to emissions from 51 coal-fired power plants, according to a letter sent to Mr Biden last month by 170 scientists.
In an email Shaylyn Hynes, Venture Global spokeswoman, said: “It appears that individuals within the White House are trying to force policymaking through leaks to the media. This continues to create uncertainty about whether our allies can rely on US LNG for their energy security.
“If this leaked report from anonymous White House sources is true, it appears the Administration may be putting a moratorium on the entire US LNG industry. Such an action would shock the global energy market, having the impact of an economic sanction, and send a devastating signal to our allies that they can no longer rely on the United States. The true irony is this policy would hurt the climate and lead to increased emissions as it would force the world to pivot to coal.”
In all, the US’s current and planned LNG projects would lead to 3.9 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year - more than the entire carbon footprint of the EU, the group of 170 scientists also warned.
Climate advocates met Wednesday’s news with cautious optimism.
“We would welcome the Biden administration pausing the monstrous, climate-killing CP2 project, but a pause isn’t enough,” said Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Energy Justice program, told The Independent, in an email.
“Growing national pressure from youth and frontline communities to end fossil fuel expansion got us here. Now the administration needs to go the full nine yards and reject CP2 and all new oil and gas projects. To preserve a livable planet, we need a public interest test that denies any new project that would drive us further into climate catastrophe and violate US commitments to transition away from fossil fuels.”
Bill McKibben, founder of the climate groups 350.org and Third Act, also said: “With this decision, President Biden--who already can claim to have done more to bolster clean energy than any of his predecessors--has also done more to check dirty energy, halting the largest fossil fuel expansion in history.”
The news has already been seized upon by Republicans with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell addressing LNG on the floor earlier on Wednesday.
“The Biden Administration’s war on affordable domestic energy has been bad news for American workers and consumers alike,” he said. “This agenda is not just bad for Americans at home, either. It’s directly at odds with American interests on the world stage.”
Former president Donald Trump, who appears likely to be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, has falsely claimed that the climate crisis is a “hoax” and promised to tear down climate policy if he wins the November election.
This article has been updated