Joe Biden’s limits on LNG exports won’t help the climate


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“FREEDOM GAS” saved Europe from an energy crisis. Imports from the old continent of American liquefied natural gas (LNG), first equated with freedom by the Donald Trump administration in 2019, increased from 16 million tons in 2021, the year before Russia invaded Ukraine and virtually stopped the transport of gas to Europe, at 46 million tonnes last year. Reorientation decisions LNG shipments to Asia and elsewhere to Europe were carried out by private companies. But they have enjoyed strong official support from Mr. Trump's successor, Joe Biden. So done LNG exports more widely, making America the world's leading exporter, ahead of Qatar and Australia.

On January 26, Mr. Biden put obstacles in the way of the gas plants. He announced a “temporary pause” pending LNG-export projects such as gas terminals, so that those responsible can examine their economic, security and environmental impact. The decision does not constitute an export ban and does not end initiatives already approved by the Ministry of Energy. But it is freezing some major proposed but unapproved projects that would benefit countries that don't have free trade agreements with America (a large group that includes large markets in Europe and Asia).

The move has delighted climate activists who claim LNG This is not about freedom but about locking economies into continued dependence on fossil fuels. This has disappointed the more reasonable who see natural gas as a cleaner “transition fuel” that would help ease the transition to greener energy, especially in light of Mr. Biden’s efforts to combat methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that can escape during the winter. fuel production and transportation. For America's allies, it is another example of how the superpower is becoming an increasingly unreliable partner.

But for Mr. Biden, it was all about politics. To prevent the war in Ukraine from disrupting energy markets, his administration oversaw a sharp expansion of domestic fossil fuel production. In addition to being the best in the world LNG exporter, America remains the largest producer of oil. That angers the climate-conscious left wing of Mr. Biden’s Democratic Party. In announcing the pause, Mr. Biden adopted his language. His decision, he said, “sees the climate crisis for what it is: the existential threat of our time.” The head of a major environmental group calls it “a big victory for progressives in an election year.” Bill McKibben, an influential activist behind a campaign to end LNG exports, said: “We all just won…I have a beer in my hand.”

Mr. McKibben might want to keep that beer on ice. As Joseph Majkut of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank, wryly points out, the impact of the pause on global markets – and therefore on global emissions, which are what matters for the climate – will be minimal . Lost U.S. exports will be offset by new shipments from Qatar, Australia and elsewhere. “I think there is an opportunity,” Canadian Energy Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said on January 30.

In addition, American hydrocarbons will invade world markets, with or without pause. If Mr. Trump, the carbon hugger, were to return to the White House, which polls say is as likely as not, America would, baby, drill. Even if Mr. Biden avoids the Trumpian challenge, America will still produce a lot of LNG. The approved projects alone would propel U.S. exports 50% higher than those of gas superpower Qatar by 2030.

And if Mr. Biden's promised scrutiny of projects, combined with his fight against methane, leads to further reductions in the carbon intensity of U.S. carbon emissions, LNG, that would make the product more competitive in countries like Europe and Japan, which want their fuel produced as cleanly as possible, says Amy Myers Jaffe of New York University. The movement that sought to overthrow America LNG In other words, the industry would then consolidate it, while damaging American alliances, which some of these same leftists would prefer to preserve. Mr. McKibben had better enjoy some bitters.

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