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LNG pause politics

LNG tanker in Louisiana

A liquefied natural gas transport ship sits docked in the Calcasieu River near Cameron, La. Photo: Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

The Biden administration's pause on new LNG export terminal approvals is creating divisions among Democrats — and could become a bargaining chip as part of whatever inclination is left for a permitting overhaul.

Why it matters: The move, which gets a Hill spotlight this week, could infect much of what lawmakers do on energy policy as election season approaches.

Driving the news: Sen. Joe Manchin is hauling in DOE deputy secretary David Turk on Thursday for the week's headline hearing on the pause.

  • Manchin has said the Biden administration needs to present "public and clear" information if it thinks expanding LNG export capacity would be harmful.
  • In the House, the Energy and Commerce energy, climate and grid security subcommittee will hold its own hearing Tuesday.
  • Expect plenty of conversation about the GOP's bill to put FERC in charge of LNG terminal decisions, which Republicans are hoping to bring up on the floor this month.

The intrigue: The administration has said little about how this review will work, and Turk's testimony will almost certainly reveal more about the administration's thinking.

  • The pause, intended to assess the climate impact of these facilities, doesn't affect projects that already have a permit from DOE, and the U.S. is likely to continue growing as the world's top LNG exporter.
  • The political grappling is worth watching, especially with lawmakers themselves trying to figure out what this actually means.
  • As Sen. Shelley Moore Capito put it when Axios asked her about the pause: "It all leads to permitting reform."

Zoom in: Progressives see this as a crucial pitch to the younger voters that President Biden has struggled to rally behind his re-election bid.

  • Enraged by the Willow Project's approval, and Biden's broader balancing act on oil and gas, progressives see this as a reset moment.
  • "I think it is saying that we didn't just finish everything with the Inflation Reduction Act," Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal told Axios.
  • Jayapal said it's a way to "redirect the ship again in the right direction."

The League of Conservation Voters last week announced a $2 million spend for ads in the D.C. area and an educational campaign to tout the pause.

  • "It's a big deal.… The vast, vast majority of that $2 million will be spent to communicate with young people," said Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns at LCV.
  • We expect this issue to show up prominently on the airwaves when LCV Victory Fund — one of the largest super PACs of the last few cycles —starts spending in earnest on Biden's re-election this year.

Yes, but: We're already seeing pushback from Pennsylvania Democrats, who say they'll want Biden to reverse the pause if it hurts jobs in their state.

  • That's a knife for the GOP to twist. The E&C hearing will feature testimony from EQT Corp.'s Toby Rice, who has been pitching his company's gas production in Appalachia as a way to displace coal-fired power plants around the world.
  • A group of moderate House Democrats also wrote to Biden last week hammering that message and urging him to "refocus on policies" that support LNG exports.

What we're watching: whether this gets tied into negotiations on appropriations riders.

  • The issue has Speaker Mike Johnson's attention: He led a letter with more than half the GOP conference yesterday calling the pause "dangerous and unnecessary."
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