The White House has announced that it is temporarily pausing the federal approval process for all pending export terminals of liquified natural gas, or LNG, marking a significant win for environmentalists who had been fighting the projects for years.
President Joe Biden, in a statement released early Friday morning, cited the climate crisis for the decision, calling global warming “the existential threat of our time” and saying his administration would first study the impact the projects would have on the environment and American energy costs.
“While MAGA Republicans willfully deny the urgency of the climate crisis, condemning the American people to a dangerous future, my Administration will not be complacent,” Biden wrote in his statement. “We will not cede to special interests.”
The move, which excludes projects related to “unanticipated and immediate national security emergencies,” puts into question at least 17 export terminals that are currently being considered along US coastlines. Among those projects is the Calcasieu Pass 2, or CP2, which would ship upwards of 20 million metric tons of gas overseas from Louisiana’s shoreline every year, making it the nation’s biggest LNG export terminal if approved.
Even with the announcement, however, the nation’s exports are set to expand rapidly. Five LNG projects that have already gained approval and are under construction would nearly double export capacity by the end of 2027, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The United States last year became the world’s largest exporter of LNG.
The fossil fuel industry and Republican lawmakers have said the expansion of American gas exports is critical for the US economy and national security, especially in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which destabilized the global supply chain and shifted energy geopolitics.
But the export projects—and CP2 in particular—had become a major point of contention among young progressives, who played a critical role in electing Biden to office in 2020 and want the president to make addressing climate change a top priority. Just by itself, the $10 billion project was expected to increase the country’s daily exports of gas by as much as 20 percent, prompting some climate activists to call CP2 a “climate mega bomb.”
One analysis found that CP2 would have 20 times the annual carbon emissions of the Willow project, an oil drilling venture in Alaska that gained notoriety among young Americans last year after videos opposing the project went viral on social media. The Biden administration approved that project last March. Online petitions to block or cancel Willow have received millions of signatures.
Following Biden’s decision Friday, a coalition of climate and environmental justice activists announced they were canceling a mass protest that had been planned to take place from Feb. 6-8 outside the US Department of Energy headquarters in Washington.
Organizers of the event, who said more than 500 people had signed up to attend the rally, were calling on participants to engage in civil disobedience and risk arrest for the sake of the climate, as well as “the communities forced to live alongside these facilities”—many of which consist of people of color and low-income households.
“We’re calling off the sit-in because the administration gave us exactly what we wanted,” Roishetta Ozane, an environmental justice activist in Louisiana who had helped organize the protest, said in an interview. “This is monumental for us.”
Ozane added that the announcement was only a first step, however, and urged the administration to continue to include frontline communities in upcoming energy decisions that affect them.
Others, including the developer of CP2, Venture Global, have said the decision will “shock the global energy market” and ultimately lead to higher emissions worldwide as nations turn to coal for electricity and heating.
The criticisms—coming from all sides—have forced Biden to walk an increasingly fine line in recent months when it comes to balancing the nation’s energy needs with his commitment to addressing climate change.
Many progressive voters, and young voters in particular, had become disillusioned with Biden in recent years, in part because of decisions that contradicted some of his campaign promises, such as halting all new oil and gas development on public land. Some young activists have also called for the Biden administration to demand a ceasefire in Gaza. Many political analysts believe that if poor sentiment among young voters continues through November, it could cost Biden the election. A recent poll from Harvard University, for example, found that young voters are less likely to vote in 2024 than they were in 2020.
But a likely rematch against former President Donald Trump is sure to energize the Democratic coalition, with many climate voters seeing Biden as by far the lesser of two evils. Trump, a climate denier, has already promised a return to a “drill baby drill” energy policy.
Studies have shown that young voters, age 29 and younger, played a key role in electing Biden in 2020, and that the issue of climate change was a driving factor in the turnout. One recent study from Tufts University found that young voters turned out in record numbers in 2020, with 50 percent of all eligible voters ages 18-29 participating in that election compared to 39 percent in the 2016 race. And a new study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that climate change opinion has had a significant and growing effect on voting that favors the Democrats and probably cost Republicans the 2020 presidential election.
Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, said some of Biden’s decisions have led to feelings of broken promises among climate-conscious voters, and that the president risked losing some of them in this year’s election. “My prediction is that stopping the development of LNG export terminals will win President Biden many more votes than it will cost him,” he said. “It’s also the right thing to do for our climate.”
A recent poll, conducted jointly by George Mason University and Yale University, found that the vast majority of Democrats support transitioning from fossil fuels to cleaner forms of energy and want to see the president and Congress do more to curb global warming.
The Biden administration appears to be aware of the political risk of losing climate-conscious voters. The Biden administration has been attempting to repair the president’s damaged environmental image in recent months, with Friday’s announcement being the latest effort.
Vice President Kamala Harris touted a price tag of $1 trillion at a series of recent press events, saying that’s the total amount of government spending and other investments that the Biden administration has so far produced for climate efforts.
Biden has by far done the most of any president in advancing climate policy. The Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed into law in 2022, dedicates around $370 billion to climate efforts. The question is whether Biden has done enough to convince young and progressive Americans to vote for him this November.