Feb 9, 2024 - Energy & Environment

What we've learned about Biden's LNG pause in week two

Illustration of a notepad with a pause symbol drawn on it

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Two weeks ago today, President Biden issued a pause on new export approvals for liquefied natural gas. Here are a few things we've learned during the policy's young and tumultuous life.

Why it matters: There's lots of organization and money involved, helping to make this LNG move one of the most intense, well-coordinated energy policy battles this century.

  • This energy journalist's inbox overflows daily with dueling analyses, open letters, and more trying to influence the future of exports.
  • Powerful business and industry groups are making reversal a priority. Capitol Hill Republicans — while currently lacking votes to overturn it — are using hearings and messaging bills to make it politically tough.
  • Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal explores how philanthropies under the Rockefeller family, Michael Bloomberg and other deep pockets were "key funders" of climate campaigners who won the pause — but want a permanent freeze.

Zoom out: The whole world is watching. Yes, this only affects projects that would come online years down the road, and U.S. exports will keep growing this decade regardless.

  • But energy importers have long planning horizons, and gas buyers in Europe and Asia are watching intently.

Context: It's a test of faith in fighting climate change. Reams of research show that keeping Paris Agreement goals alive means moving quickly away from fossil fuels — especially new projects that will live for decades.

  • Yet gas displaces coal in some places. The University of Texas-Austin's Arvind P. Ravikumar points to his research showing that in scenarios in line with Paris' 1.5°C target, LNG can only help cut emissions for another decade.
  • But the world isn't on that Paris road, so LNG is a hedge. "[I]f the world misses that temperature target, and most signs suggest it will, natural gas could continue to help cut power-sector emissions over a longer time period," he writes in MIT Technology Review.
  • And there are lots more variables (I'm skipping methane today) when weighing whether natural gas is a climate friend or foe.

Yes, but: The timeline remains vague. Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk wouldn't offer specifics at a Senate hearing Thursday, Axios Pro: Energy Policy's Nick Sobczyk reports.

  • But he said DOE would complete its review in "months, not years."

The bottom line: "My guess, and I think it's probably a pretty well-educated guess, [is] that it will conveniently not be concluded prior to the election," said GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

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