Jan 25, 2024 - Energy & Environment

The red hot politics of super-chilled LNG

Illustration of two boxing gloves made of pipes facing off with a stylized explosion between them.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The future of liquefied natural gas exports is fast becoming the biggest energy policy battle of 2024 — and maybe beyond.

State of play: There are fresh signs the White House will pump the brakes on new export approvals in order to better weave climate change into reviews.

Driving the news: The New York Times reports the administration will pause a decision on Venture Global's big Calcasieu Pass 2 project — a top target of climate activists — and other proposals.

  • Bloomberg writes of plans for "intensifying" scrutiny that could stall planned projects for months or longer.
  • The administration did not comment.

Why it matters: The U.S. recently became the world's largest LNG exporter, but the energy source's surge since the mid-2010s is tricky for Biden officials.

  • LNG gives the U.S. geopolitical leverage, and new terminals are an economic driver in some places.
  • But climate and fence-line anti-pollution activists — including young voters Biden-world covets politically — have made thwarting LNG a top policy focus.

The intrigue: ClearView Energy Partners sees potential pushback to a pause inside the administration on economic grounds. But appealing to climate-minded young voters could carry the day.

  • "While it may be true that economics wins out over politics in the long run, we will say it again: in politics, there is no long run (especially not in an election year)," ClearView said in a note.

Yes, but: The politics aren't cut and dried. Consider that multiple energy companies see export markets boosting the gas industry in states like Pennsylvania — a huge 2024 battleground.

What we're watching: Look for intense public and closed-door lobbying in a fight that spills into the presidential race.

  • My inbox is filling up green groups praising the potential pause, and industry groups bashing it.
  • Donald Trump's campaign did not provide comment, but he and other Republicans typically lash out at fossil fuel restrictions.
  • European and Asian gas buyers are nervous about Biden's next moves — and weighing in with the administration, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Catch up fast: U.S. exports are slated to grow regardless, thanks to new projects already taking shape, but many other plans still await approval.

  • LNG backers make a pragmatic climate argument that LNG helps displace overseas use of coal, the most CO2-emitting fuel.
  • However, Paris Agreement targets require getting off all fossil fuels, and activists fear new projects lock in emissions for decades.
  • Releases of methane, a powerful planet-warming gas, in the supply chain erode the advantage over coal (though by how much is hotly debated.)

The bottom line: The future of LNG may be on the ballot.

Go deeper