LNG Exporter Cheniere Requests Exemption to Pollution Limits

LNG Exporter Cheniere Requests Exemption to Pollution Limits

Reuters reports that Cheniere Energy Inc., the largest liquified natural gas (LNG) exporter in the US, has requested the Biden Administration to temporarily waive limits on cancer-causing pollution. Its basis: the limits will prevent the export of enough LNG to Europe, hindering the Administration’s efforts to aid the bloc by offsetting Russian energy.

Bloomberg: Europe Energy Crisis Drives US to Top Slot of LNG Exporters, April 25, 2022.

In a letter emailed to EPA Administrator Michael Regan on March 8, Cheniere’s law firm Bracewell wrote that such limits could cause: "... significant costs and operational disruption on the US LNG industry at the same time the administration is focused on Europe’s strategic need to break its reliance on Russian gas is counterproductive.”

The Biden Administration is in a double bind. Fossil fuel interests argue that LNG exports are crucial to alleviating Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, especially if Russia weaponizes energy come fall and colder temperatures. Still, a temporary suspension on pollution limits will pump more toxic chemicals into low-income, neighboring communities. Cheniere’s gas-powered turbines emit formaldehyde and nitrogen oxides that cause respiratory diseases like emphysema and bronchitis.

CBS: How government actions are affecting the global energy crisis, June 9, 2022.

Global Witness: Why is natural gas bad for the climate?, March 4, 2021.

DW: What happens if Russia cuts off gas supplies to Europe?, July 8, 2022.

Why This Matters

The global energy crisis is threatening the progress the world has made in transitioning to renewables. Gas prices in European markets have increased by 700%, which should make clean energy a cheaper and more attractive option. But many governments have responded by doubling down on fossil fuels. The European Parliament voted into law that gas can be considered "green” as a bridge fuel, granting access to the same funding incentives as renewables despite its emissions of carbon dioxide and methane. The US could take steps to move away from fossil fuels, especially since transitioning to green energy would align with the Biden Administration’s goal to reach net zero by 2050, but fossil fuel demands are putting these climate commitments in jeopardy.

LNG projects like Cheniere’s are particularly controversial. Last month the US agreed to expand LNG infrastructure along the gulf coast, emitting greenhouse gases in an amount equivalent to approximately one year of climate-damaging emissions from 18 million cars.

Euronews: UN Secretary-General says the climate crisis is placing half of humanity in 'the danger zone,' June 14, 2022.

Bloomberg: Oil Crisis: Energy Watchdog Urges People to Drive Less & Work From Home, March 18, 2022.

IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union’s Reliance on Russian Natural Gas, March 3, 2022.

US Fossil Fuel Expansion

It’s not just Cheniere seeking exemptions from federal fossil fuel limitations. ConocoPhillips proposed a $6 billion oil and gas project on public lands in the Arctic that would emit 35 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses. The project had been approved by the Trump Administration, but then blocked in a federal court, which called for the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to give the project a more thorough environmental review.

The BLM’s review, released last week, proposed a scaled-down version of the project with the possible consideration of not approving it at all. The bureau will allow the public to comment on the various options for 45 days before making its final decision. Alaska Wilderness League Conservation Director Kristen Miller, in a statement, called it "an unparalleled climate and biodiversity threat that puts President Biden's climate legacy at risk."

Last year, 79% of US energy use was sourced from natural gas and coal. But with access to natural gas requiring infrastructure expansions and its rising price, coal is making a very unwelcome comeback. Coal consumption was up from 2020 to 2021, marking the first annual increase in demand for the fossil fuel in almost a decade. According to The Atlantic, "36.3 metric gigatons of carbon pollution from fossil fuels [were emitted] into the atmosphere [in 2021], a record high.” Of those energy-related emissions, 13% are attributed to the US.

TED: Fossil fuel companies know how to stop global warming. Why don't they? | Myles Allen, December 4, 2020.

TED: End fossil fuels to protect human health | Carolyn Orr, March 1, 2022.

TED: How to Realistically Decarbonize the Oil and Gas Industry | Bjørn Otto Sverdrup, March 3, 2022.