Weekly The Generation, Year 1, Issue 16
December 19, 2023
by Roishetta Ozane and Bill McKibben
More than 200 nations pledged last week in Dubai that they would be “transitioning away from from fossil fuels”. Some cheered and some scoffed; we’ll soon know if the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas – the United States – meant what it signed, or if it was just more (literal) hot air.
That’s because the US Department of Energy (DoE) must decide whether to stop rubber-stamping the single biggest fossil-fuel expansion on earth, the buildout of natural gas exports from the Gulf of Mexico. So far they have granted every export license anyone has requested, and as a result the US has become the biggest gas exporter on planet earth. If they keep it up, the veteran energy analyst Jeremy Symons says that before long US liquefied natural gas exports will produce more greenhouse gases than everything that happens on the continent of Europe.
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.
That’s why 230 groups, including the ones we represent, have called on the DoE to pause all new export licenses until they fully revamp their procedures for figuring whether these permits are, as the statute requires, in “the public interest”. At the moment, the government uses a 2014 standard for making that determination – but since 2014 the price of renewables has dropped like a rock, and the temperature has soared higher than any time in human history.
When you live on a planet where the cheapest way to produce power is pointing a sheet of glass at the sun, filling a tanker with liquefied natural gas and shipping it halfway around the world is archaic. It’s also ruinous: new data from the Cornell scientist Bob Howarth this fall showed that these ships leak so much methane that it’s far worse for the climate even than exporting coal.
If the DoE gives Biden up-to-date information, this should be the ultimate no-brainer. He’s made strong promises about his commitment to environmental justice, and the communities he’s sacrificing on the Gulf are mostly poor and people of color. He has pledged to fight inflation, and exporting natural gas just drives up the price for those Americans who still depend on it for heating and cooking.
That probably helps explain why new polling shows huge majorities of Americans in key battleground states want to put the brakes on these export plans. We’re already exporting plenty to make up for the stuff Putin used to provide Europe; the only beneficiaries going forward are a handful of fossil fuel companies that want to lock in markets for decades in Asia before they can build solar farms and wind turbines.
In fact, the energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, could perform a small political miracle for the president. Earlier this year, Biden permitted the big new Willow oil complex in Alaska. It was a major climate mistake but also an electoral blunder, because millions of young people had written in to ask his help; their dismay helps explain the president’s lagging poll numbers with youth voters. But if Willow is big, this liquefied natural gas buildout is much much bigger – just the next terminal up for discussion, CP2 in Cameron parish, Louisiana, will be associated over its lifetime with 20 times more greenhouse gases than Willow.
Which means that if the DoE halts the permit process, Biden (who already, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, can claim to have done more to build clean energy than any president before him) will have a legit boast that he’s done more than any of his predecessors to slow down dirty energy. Yes, it’s a low bar – but it would be a big step. That’s why we’re planning on coming to Washington DC for (very civil) civil disobedience outside the DoE in early February.
Biden can’t actually stop CP2 or any other plant – at the moment they haven’t actually applied for their licenses, perhaps because they sense the growing opposition. But if the administration pauses the permit process and sends the old criteria back for a serious revamp, it will have the same effect. And it will send a truly powerful signal around the world: the biggest exporter of oil and gas is actually going to change its ways.
The US’s climate envoy, John Kerry, said at the conclusion of the Dubai talks: “This is a moment where … people have taken individual interests and attempted to define the common good.” We don’t know yet if he was just blowing (literal) smoke – that’s up to Granholm and Biden in the weeks ahead.
Author Roishetta Ozane is the founder of the Vessel Project, a Louisiana environmental justice group and Bill McKibben is the founder of Third Act, which organizes people over 60 for action on climate and democracy
Courtesy by The Guardian