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Judge overturns Biden’s LNG export pause

By Niina H. Farah | 07/02/2024 06:38 AM EDT

The ruling requires the Department of Energy to restart the process of considering gas export applications.

A small vehicle drives past a network of piping that makes up pieces of a "train" at Cameron LNG export facility in Hackberry, La., on Thursday, March 31, 2022.

A small vehicle drives past a network of piping at a liquefied natural gas export facility in Hackberry, Louisiana, on March 31, 2022. Martha Irvine/AP

A federal judge reversed the Department of Energy’s freeze on new liquefied natural gas export approvals Monday, handing a win to industry and red states that had challenged the Biden administration plan.

Judge James Cain of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana said in an that DOE’s export pause would be “stayed in its entirety, effective immediately.”

In January, the administration halted reviews of new LNG export applications to non-free-trade-agreement countries, saying it needed to review how to account for climate risks of projects before approving exports. The pause was praised by environmentalists who had been critical of President Biden’s record on fossil fuels. Monday’s court ruling does not force DOE to now approve LNG applications, but it does require the department to restart the process of considering them.

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DOE’s decision went against the language of the Natural Gas Act and was subverting “Congress’s determination that LNG exports are presumptively in the public interest,” said Cain, a Trump pick.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by coalition of 16 Republican-led states, which claimed the administration had overstepped its authority when it launched the freeze.

The department had said the pause would remain in place temporarily as it reviewed how it would account for climate risks when determining whether new gas exports were in the public interest. The freeze did not affect exports to non-free-trade agreements that had already been approved at the time.

According to Cain, the Natural Gas Act instructs DOE to ensure “expeditious completion” of reviewing export applications.

He acknowledged that DOE has previously used studies to update how it makes public interest determinations.

But “the decision to wholesale halt the process of approving applications for non-FTA countries is a complete reversal of how the DOE processed these applications in the past,” he wrote.

The pause affected exports for pending LNG projects, including Commonwealth LNG and Venture Global’s CP2 project in Louisiana, as well as the second phase of Sempra’s Port Arthur LNG project in Texas.

In a statement, DOE said that it disagreed with Monday’s ruling, adding it “continues to review the court’s order and evaluate next steps.”

DOE has noted that the United States remains the largest LNG exporter in the world, despite claims from opponents that the pause caused economic harm.

The country has an operating gas export capacity of 14 billion cubic feet per day, with projects under construction that could add 12 billion more cubic feet per day in this decade, according to the department.

DOE has also authorized another 22 billion cubic feet per day of exports from facilities that are not yet under construction and were not affected by the pause.

Craig Segall, vice president of the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action, emphasized in a statement that the court’s decision would not determine what DOE could consider in deciding whether LNG export permits are in the public interest.

“Pause or no pause, the science is clear: No sound analysis that accounts for the climate and environmental harm inflicted by LNG exports could possibly determine that these deadly facilities are in the public interest,” Segall said.

Lauren Parker, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said “coupled with last week’s court rulings, rolling back the LNG pause shows that Trump judges are hellbent on torching environmental safeguards, the climate and our democracy.”

West Virginia Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, however, lauded the court’s decision late Monday. West Virginia was one of the 16 states backing the lawsuit.

“This is a big win for the country’s energy industry and the millions of jobs it supports against the attacks from the Biden administration to further its radical climate change agenda at the expense of our economy,” he said in a statement shortly after the decision.

“This administration’s Energy Department has no such authority to justify this ban — authority on matters like this lies with Congress and Congress alone,” he added.

Social cost of carbon echoes

This is not the first time that Cain has struck down administration policies aiming to account for climate risks and harms of pollution to vulnerable communities.

In 2022, Cain ruled that the Biden administration could not use a climate metric known as the to put a price tag on carbon emissions. His injunction was later reversed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

More recently, Cain issued a in January barring EPA’s efforts to beef up its civil rights enforcement of environmental laws in Louisiana.

The Trump-appointed judge has also blocked the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s efforts to from oil and gas development.