New Hearing, Same Story: Biden Officials Struggle to Defend LNG Pause

This week, the Biden administration trotted out familiar disproven claims to justify their LNG export permitting pause. Testimony from Brad Crabtree, Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, at a House Oversight Committee hearing on the LNG export pause, failed to address or resolve widespread concern about the policy decision.  

LNG Exports Do not Raise Energy Prices   

Assistant Secretary Crabtree’s written testimony made the misleading claim that the LNG pause could actually lower energy prices for households, stating: 

“[W]e have also seen periods during which U.S. LNG exports had a noticeable influence on domestic prices, especially when demand outpaced supply following the post-COVID economic recovery.” 

This claim was repeated by several members on the committee, including Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) who suggested that LNG exports contribute to higher electricity prices: 

“This is a policy that’s actually going to lower electricity bills for Americans.” 

However, the DOE’s own 2018 commissioned study found that across 54 scenarios evaluated, higher levels of LNG exports led to higher levels of GDP and consumer welfare – not higher prices. Historical data supports this: analysis of EIA data shows that increases in natural gas exports have not consistently correlated with consistent increases in higher natural gas spot prices, which guide consumers’ immediate household energy costs. 

Spot prices did climb between 2020 and 2022 as demand around the world rebounded post-COVID and the leadup to the invasion in Ukraine disrupted supply. But by 2023, global natural gas markets had moved past the acute crisis and average spot price corrected to pre-war levels, all while maintaining unprecedented volumes of U.S. LNG exports. 

Allies are Concerned About the Pause  

Allies’ sentiment on the LNG pause was also misrepresented during the hearing. When Rep. Fallon (R-TX) asked Crabtree whether or not U.S. allies were concerned by the export pause, Crabtree responded: 

“[U.S. allies] are not alarmed.” 

Yet, at a previous hearing Dr. James Watson, Secretary General of European trade association EuroGas, disputed this in his testimony: 

“[T]here is no European government that has welcomed this decision. The European Commission did not welcome this decision. The European Parliament does not welcome this decision, nor does the European Council. The United Kingdom has not welcomed this decision. No European country has welcomed this decision.” (emphasis added) 

And he is not alone. Olivier Becht, France’s minister delegate for foreign trade, echoed this sentiment and pointed out that consistent U.S. LNG supply is critical, particularly with the current level of geopolitical instability:  

“What’s certain is that in the current geopolitical environment, we’re counting a lot on American gas.” 

Ken Saito, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, even went to far as to say that country officials are prepared to lobby against the LNG pause as necessary:  

“[W]e are concerned that the temporary suspension of export permits will delay the start of new LNG production from the US. We would like to carefully examine the medium to long-term impact of the issue and take necessary steps to ensure that Japan’s stable energy supply is not compromised.” 

Similarly, just this week, Europe’s energy regulator warned that the bloc is still dependent on Russian LNG to mitigate the risk of an energy shock and high prices, highlighting the need for more U.S. LNG.  

Pause Not Required For a Permitting Review  

Crabtree claimed that the LNG pause follows a 2012 precedent where the Obama administration paused LNG permitting approval, and that the agency is in no place to simultaneously issue permits as it is reviewing its permitting process. This claim was checked by Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX), who corrected the record:  

“Since 2012, the pause that occurred then, and before the studies were complete in 2014 and 2015, the DOE actually issued seven conditional projects. Precedent appears clear to me.” 

Not only is the pause unprecedented in the light of the seven approvals that the Obama administration administered during its LNG permitting pause, but it’s also a rapid shift from the DOE and Crabtree’s earlier assertion that the DOE’s approval process for LNG permitting was sound. Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) pointed to a previous correspondence between the DOE and environment group the Sierra Club regarding the NGO’s request to reevaluate the LNG export permitting process.   

To Crabtree, Rep. Waltz asked 

“Do you recall signing the 2018 denial to the Sierra Club rulemaking petition on DOE’s natural gas export policy? In your decision you said that the ‘DOE continuing development of LNG export policy has accounted for changes in environmental, energy and other considerations. . . and so far as petitioners are asking DOE to halt approval of pending applications to export LNG to non-FTA countries until DOE completes a final revision of its policy guidelines, we find that there is no factual or legal basis for actions at this time.’” (emphasis added) 

Yet, somehow, the DOE is now unable to continue the process without a pause. 

And, not only is a pause not precedent, the DOE continues to move the goal posts on when the pause will end. After Secretary Granholm previously saying the pause would end within the year, Crabtree testified that this timeline will now be pushed to as late as March of 2025. 

“We’re planning for a 60-day public comment period. And together with that process, we estimate the update will be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2025.”

Pausing LNG Permits Will not Contribute to Climate Goals  

The so-called climate benefits of the LNG pause have also come under question multiple times. Rep. Fallon questioned Crabtree on the climate merits, quoting a recent Bloomberg article on Cornell University professor Robert Howarth whose study is widely believed to have provided the justification for the pause:  

“[Howarth] decided to release his LNG study before it underwent peer review after a conversation with environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben, who wrote about it in the New Yorker. According to Howarth, McKibben told him that if he waited to make results from his paper public until after the peer review process, which could take until spring or summer, that would mean missing the opportunity to impact US policy decisions on LNG expected in the first part of this year. ‘I thought, well, okay, he’s right,’ said Howarth.” 

In other words, as EID has highlighted, the study behind Biden’s LNG pause was published to ‘achieve policy goals.’  

Those policy goals are not to simply reduce emissions, but to end all fossil fuel operations and stifle U.S. energy independence. If emissions reduction was the goal, then the Biden administration would be embracing LNG—not fighting it. 

American natural gas exports are contributing to reduced emission globally with a lower greenhouse gas emissions footprint than other sources of imported energy, including foreign sources of natural gas transmitted via pipeline. Just this week, a new analysis confirmed that U.S. liquefied natural gas is better for the climate than coal or Russian gas when used for power generation in Europe and Asia, a fact previously confirmed by DOE, EIA, RMI and others.  

Source: American Petroleum Institute 

Bottom Line: The excuses being made by the administration in defense of this policy move are red herrings meant to distract from the truth: that the LNG pause is a political ploy meant to garner support from anti-fossil environmentalists during a contentious election season. It is possible to review the approval process while issuing permits that provide stability to the industry looking to meet the administration’s commitment to allies while simultaneously meeting global emission reduction goals. The Biden administration must stop this pandering and cease holding U.S. energy hostage.  

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