Aug 23, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Biden and natural gas: It's complicated

Illustration of a question mark made out of blue fire

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Biden administration has filled in more blanks on its approach to natural gas, but the overall picture remains murky.

Catch up fast: The Treasury Department is pressing multilateral development banks (MDBs) not to fund natural gas exploration and production.

  • But the new policy still backs projects further down the development chain, like pipelines, if certain criteria are met.
  • "Guidance" last week to MDBs like the World Bank also opposes finance for new coal and oil projects.

Why it matters: It's a concrete way that Biden hopes to use Treasury to steer investment away from fossil fuels and toward climate-friendly sources.

  • Stephanie Segal, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes the U.S. has leverage with the MDBs.
  • It's the largest shareholder at the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and near the top in some others.
  • The U.S. position "translates into voting power and an outsize role in setting the institutions’ agendas and lending programs," Segal writes.

The intrigue: Treasury's split decision on gas financing reflects the wider nuances and uncertainties around the White House approach to natural gas.

  • The Interior Department has temporarily paused oil-and-gas leasing on federal lands, but the future scope of lease sales remains unknown.
  • Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has voiced qualified support for U.S. liquefied natural gas exports.
  • White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy, asked last week about gas' role in administration policy, said they support an "all of the above" policy on energy, per the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The big picture: Gas is tricky! It produces far less CO2 when burned than coal.

  • But methane leaks in gas production, transport, and so forth erode some of that advantage.
  • And pathways to meeting the Paris Agreement goals require movement away from all fossil fuels.
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