The LNG pause is Biden’s “most sweeping step yet” to pump the breaks on a “fossil fuel industry that has prospered on his watch”
(Image credit: Illustration by Stephen Kelly / Getty Images)
published 5 February 2024
Late last month, President Joe Biden announced that his administration was issuing a broad pause on pending approvals for new liquified natural gas (LNG) exports, arguing in a press release that the freeze was part of the White House’s push to “lead the way in ambitious climate action while ensuring the American economy remains the envy of the world.” Biden’s order, which crucially does not affect the nation’s existing or already approved LNG export facilities, has become a flashpoint across the political spectrum — and around the world. Shortly after the decision was announced, Conservative West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin said his Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee would hold hearings to “get to the facts” on the pause, while the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee vowed to hold their own hearings on what chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) called Biden’s “political decision to appease radical climate activists.”
At the same time, the freeze has prompted hand-wringing from international observers who worry that any disruption to American outflow of LNG could jeopardize European efforts to wean itself off Russian-supplied fuel — an effort that’s taken on particular significance and urgency amid the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war.
For a White House that has banked much of its reputation on taking significant action to address the nexus of climate change and American energy independence, does this administration’s new LNG pause truly live up to those expectations, or are there other considerations at play here?
Subscribe to The Week The Week provides readers with a wide range of perspectives from 200 trusted news sources.
Try 6 Free Issues
Sign up for The Week’s Free Newsletters From our daily WeekDay news briefing to an award-winning Food & Drink email, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.
From our daily WeekDay news briefing to an award-winning Food & Drink email, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.
The LNG pause is Biden’s “most sweeping step yet” to pump the breaks on a “fossil fuel industry that has prospered on his watch,” said Politico, which noted the “resurgence of environmental groups’ influence” on the administration ahead of the upcoming election. Longtime environmental activist and author Bill McKibben seemingly agreed, ceding that while the order “doesn’t guarantee long-term victory” for fossil fuel opponents, it does set up a future “where victory is possible.” Possible disappointments notwithstanding, the move itself is reason enough for McKibben to “have a beer in my hand” in celebration.
The debate over this new pause is, in part, one of political self-interest, The New Republic’s Liza Featherstone said, arguing that while Democrats “want to goose turnout for Biden” based on actual environmental policy, Republicans “want to animate the angry petrosexuals in their base.” Stressing that “most” of the misinformation over the order is “coming from Republicans and the fossil fuel industry,” environmental journalist Emily Atkin in her Heated newsletter allowed that “some Democrats and environmental groups are stretching the truth too,” overplaying the order’s impact to “motivate progressives” in November.
By offering this “raw political payoff to the climate left,” the Biden administration is risking “U.S. national security and economic interests,” said the editorial board of the conservative Wall Street Journal. The order is an “election-year sop to climate activists” which will ultimately “unsettle vital U.S. alliances” instead of saving the planet, The Washington Post’s editorial board agreed. If the pause genuinely curtails future American LNG exports, it will simply “drive customers into the arms of competitors such as Australia, Qatar, Algeria and, yes, Russia.”
What next?While the new rule likely won’t affect LNG supply itself “in the short or medium term,” it “erodes confidence in the longer term” Shell CEO Wael Sawan predicted to The Financial Times. Fellow oil executive Exxon CFO Kathy Mikells also criticized the order, claiming to Fortune that “it harms the world achieving net zero sooner rather than later” by pushing for expanded use of coal, which is more environmentally harmful (per Atkin, overall volume of US Exported LNG is, in fact, “expected to double by 2028”).
More immediately, the administration’s efforts have rankled several fellow Democrats who, in a relatively rare rebuke of a sitting president in a close election cycle, have come out asking the White House to “refocus” its LNG policies, as 10 House Democrats from several oil producing states did in a joint letter. The Democratic senators from Pennsylvania were “more pointed” in their criticism, said Bloomberg, citing a joint statement from Bob Casey and John Fetterman threatening to “push the Biden administration to reverse this decision” if state jobs are “at risk.”
To continue reading this article…
Create a free account
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Already have an account? Sign in
Subscribe to The Week
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more with a subscription to The Week.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Unlimited website access is included with Digital and Print + Digital subscriptions.
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us
A free twice-daily digest of the biggest news stories of the day – and the best features from our website
Rafi Schwartz has worked as a politics writer at The Week since 2022, where he covers elections, Congress and the White House. He was previously a contributing writer with Mic focusing largely on politics, a senior writer with Splinter News, a staff writer for Fusion’s news lab, and the managing editor of Heeb Magazine, a Jewish life and culture publication. Rafi’s work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GOOD and The Forward, among others.