The White House will delay its decision to expand the largest liquified natural gas export facility in Louisiana, the New York Times reported Wednesday afternoon.
This comes after months of pressure from environmental groups. In December, more than 230 groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and urged them to halt the approval process on this facility, which would produce 20 times the greenhouse gas emissions of the Willow oil project in Alaska.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben’s Third Act and other environmental groups had planned a sit-in at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. this February to pressure the president and department to stop the LNG expansion.
“I don’t think we're going to have to go to D.C.,” McKibben told GBH News in an email following the report from the New York Times. “It’s a massive win,” he added.
This news comes after the hottest year on record and a summer of rapid renewable energy expansion.
“We were putting up solar panels around the world at the rate of about a nuclear power plant’s worth a day,” Bill McKibben said on Boston Public Radio on Wednesday.
That’s creating about one gigawatt worth of solar power a day, he said. One gigawatt is equal to about 2.5 million solar panels. This boom approaches the pace needed to catch up to the effects of global warming.
About half of those gigawatts installed were happening in China, McKibben said. The United States ramped up its own renewable energy production, too, with money from the Inflation Reduction Act going towards new battery and solar panel factories.
“It’s the beginning of something,” said McKibben. But if the U.S. really wants to make a sizable impact on clean energy production and keep the COP28 pledge to transition away from fossil fuels, President Biden must take a stance on liquified natural gas (LNG) exports, he said.
Today’s news shows the Biden Administration is willing take that stronger stance.
“It doesn’t guarantee long-term victory — it sets up a process where victory is possible (to this point, the industry has gotten every permit they’ve asked for),” McKibben wrote in his Substack, "The Crucial Years."
The process of liquifying, chilling, shipping and burning LNG creates more greenhouse gas than burning coal, according to one 2023 analysis from Cornell University. And, it increases dependence on fossil fuels in the places where it’s exported. Exporting LNG could also increase gas prices for American consumers and leave them subject to global price fluctuations, according to the Department of Energy.
“We're talking about locking in huge swaths of the planet to fossil fuel precisely at the moment that solar power and wind power have become the cheapest forms of energy on the planet,” said McKibben.
While a win for environmentalists today, the delay could be rolled back after the 2024 presidential election. Both of Biden’s potential competitors — Donald Trump and Nikki Haley — have said they would increase domestic fossil fuel production. Haley was the Ambassador to the United Nations when she withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement in 2017.
The good news is that more solar panels and wind turbines mean less political power for oil companies. “That's one less oil derrick pumping… and that much less money flowing into the coffers of these guys,” McKibben said.
“So the day will come when this is no longer the [political] issue that it is now,” said McKibben. “The question is, will that day come while we still have ice at the North and South Pole and the odd coral reef in between?”