Will the United States approve the largest expansion of fossil fuels on the planet? | Roishetta Ozane and Bill McKibben
More than 200 countries promised last week in Dubai to move away from using fossil fuels. Some were happy about this decision, while others were doubtful. We will find out soon if the United States, which is the largest oil and gas producer in the world, was serious about their commitment or if it was just empty promises.
The US Department of Energy (DoE) is facing a critical decision regarding the approval of the largest expansion of fossil fuels in the world – the development of natural gas exports from the Gulf of Mexico. Currently, the DoE has approved every request for export licenses, making the US the top producer of gas on a global scale. However, energy expert Jeremy Symons warns that if this trend continues, US exports of liquefied natural gas will soon surpass Europe in greenhouse gas emissions.
They should have stopped long ago – in part because of the damage these giant terminals are doing to the people, the fish and the air of Louisiana and Texas. But if the DoE keeps approving these licenses now, it will fly in the face of their promise in Dubai. “Transitioning away from fossil fuels” doesn’t mean stopping all use of coal, gas and oil tomorrow; sadly, that’s impossible. But it clearly means not building new infrastructure to expand the production and sale of hydrocarbons.
Therefore, 230 organizations, including those we represent, have urged the Department of Energy to halt the issuance of any new export licenses until they thoroughly reform their protocols for determining if these permits align with the “public interest” as mandated by law. Currently, the government follows a 2014 guideline for making this assessment – however, since 2014, the cost of renewable energy has significantly declined and global temperatures have reached record highs.
Living on a planet where the most cost-effective method of generating power involves using solar panels to capture sunlight, relying on transporting liquefied natural gas by tanker across the globe is outdated and destructive. Recent research from Cornell’s Bob Howarth has revealed that these ships release large amounts of methane, making it even more detrimental to the environment than exporting coal.
If the Department of Energy provides Biden with current information, this decision should be obvious. He has made bold statements about his dedication to environmental equality, and the communities he is impacting in the Gulf are predominantly impoverished and comprised of people of color. He has promised to combat inflation, and exporting natural gas only increases the cost for Americans who rely on it for heating and cooking.
The recent polls in important swing states have revealed that a significant number of Americans are against the idea of exporting natural resources. This is likely due to the fact that the United States is already exporting enough to compensate for the resources previously provided by Russia to Europe. The only ones who stand to gain from these export plans are a small group of fossil fuel companies, who are looking to secure long-term markets in Asia before renewable energy sources such as solar and wind can become more prevalent.
Jennifer Granholm, the energy secretary, has the potential to work a political miracle for the president. In a previous decision, President Biden approved the construction of the large Willow oil complex in Alaska. This was not only a significant mistake in terms of climate impact, but also a blunder in terms of electoral support, as millions of young people had reached out to him for help. This may partially explain why the president’s poll numbers among young voters are lower than desired. However, if Willow was a big project, the upcoming liquefied natural gas buildout is much larger. The next terminal up for consideration, CP2 in Cameron parish, Louisiana, is estimated to produce 20 times more greenhouse gases over its lifespan than Willow.
This implies that if the Department of Energy stops the approval process, President Biden (who has already made significant progress in promoting clean energy through the Inflation Reduction Act) will be able to rightfully brag that he has accomplished more in this area than any previous president. While this is not a difficult achievement, it would still be a significant accomplishment. This is why we intend to peacefully protest outside the DoE in Washington DC in early February.
Biden is unable to prevent CP2 or any other plant from operating. It appears that they have not yet submitted their license applications, possibly due to increasing opposition. However, if the administration halts the permit process and requires a thorough revision of the old criteria, it will have a similar impact. This action would also send a significant message globally: the top exporter of oil and gas is committed to making changes.
The United States’ climate representative, John Kerry, stated after the Dubai discussions: “This is a critical time where individuals have prioritized their own interests while trying to determine the greater good.” It remains to be seen if this was merely a figurative statement – that will be determined by Granholm and Biden in the coming weeks.
Roishetta Ozane founded the Vessel Project, which is a group dedicated to environmental justice in Louisiana.
Bill McKibben founded Third Act, an organization that mobilizes individuals over the age of 60 to take action on climate change and democracy.