Joe Biden’s dangerous natural gas game

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By TRISTAN ABBEY | REAL CLEAR ENERGY

If the devil is in the details, bureaucracy is hell on earth. Though terrain familiar to the Biden administration, Republicans must prepare to navigate it.

Witness the debacle over liquefied natural gas exports, wherein the White House, by “pausing” most new approvals, has catapulted the energy security of key U.S. allies straight into the buzzsaw of its climate ambitions. (The category of exports that will continue to be authorized is tiny.) The Department of Energy claims that a multifactor impact study due in early 2025 is required to determine whether and how the moratorium will be lifted.

Under a certain conception of executive power, it should be simple enough for a second-term Trump administration to end this national embarrassment by pressing “resume” on the authorization process. But as analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies have suggested, merely setting aside the study could provide a basis, however tenuous, for future litigation. In the modern administrative state, it is easier to open than shut the procedural door to delays.

Previous administrations have already published macroeconomic impact studies on the question of LNG exports from the U.S. The Obama administration paused its authorizations until its first study was released in December 2012, for example—curious timing, considering the election the previous month and the study’s actual completion in July of that year. Virtually every scenario in every study, including additional analysis in 2015 and 2018, has found net benefits to accrue.

It’s possible reopening the Obama playbook was the Biden team’s plan all along. After all, Secretary Granholm didn’t commission a new study in 2021, or in 2022, or in 2023. By waiting so long, the DOE can now claim that the cumulative volume of its authorizations is approaching the upper limit of the range that the 2018 study examined. Under the duplicity theory, approvals resume under a second Biden term as soon as the study is released and the election fades away.

But maybe the administration doesn’t even have a plan. It could be sheer incompetence. Gas exports offend the sensibilities of the Democratic base, but Appalachian swing states reap the economic rewards and European allies are desperate to detach themselves from Russian energy. Political operators will try in vain to triangulate even if it is impossible. We can imagine them now, hunched over the asphalt between the West Wing and the Eisenhower building, desperately chalking angles with a compass and ruler.

More ominously, Energy Secretary Granholm may be laying the groundwork for a Kafkaesque application process designed to punish an industry this administration has only ever pretended to tolerate. The fact that DOE’s approving authority is now housed in the Office of Resource Sustainability is suggestive, as is the Fiscal Year 2025 budget request to triple programmatic funding for export authorizations, primarily in the form of “anticipated studies and environmental reviews.”

In any event, undoing what the Biden team has done will take careful work by a putative second-term Trump administration. Putting the matter to rest on a more permanent basis will require legislative action, chiefly amending the Natural Gas Act signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938. In the meantime, “death by study” works both ways.

Tristan Abbey is a senior fellow at the National Center for Energy Analytics. He previously served as a staffer at the White House and the U.S. Senate.

This article was originally published by RealClearEnergy and made available via RealClearWire.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe(?), the best course of action in another Trump Administration is to completely eliminate these … Ineffective, Inefficient, Unproductive, Highly Politicized & Bureaucratized Agencies; the DOE being ‘one of many’ of them ripe for the Chopping Block.

  2. We are being de-industrialized and de-energized by our own government. A national suicide implemented by unelected permanent state public “servants” that make a mockery of the concept of democracy and are impoverishing Americans. The irony is our Gross National Product is calculated with government spending (inflating it by 50%) included as though it produced anything. Pretending the debt ratio is “only” 125% of GDP. Our European allies are desperate because we forcibly detached them from cheap, reliable and efficiently transported Russian natural gas by blowing up the Nordstream pipeline. The largest critical infrastructure destruction terror attack in history. The massive environmental degradation is ignored by the green hypocrites. Now these Euro vassal states are forced to rely on expensive LNG, energy wasting trans oceanic transport from an unreliable and politically unstable and incompetently managed source country.
    The fact is we have squandered our inheritance and are headed to third world status, while those countries not under our military/economic dominance are moving forward. The GOP will yap like toothless dogs and do nothing.

  3. Just the fact that we cannot develop our natural gas resources in Cook Inlet ought to have folks asking questions ? Hope prior to gas shortages or the absolute idiotic idea of importing gas to Alaska ( I’ve never heard of such an outrageously stupid idea ) .

    Do you think the big funds that our permanent fund is invested are stonewalling capital to Alaska oil and gas projects ? I can assure you they are as they are helping fund the “ green new deal “ . I bet with all the inflation in the last four years , folks have enough of the GND !

    How come drill rigs have to be shipped from the slope to drill wells in CookInlet , beats the hell out of me?

    Should be a gas rush to produce shallow gas in SouthCentral now that Jim White prevailed in court . His action to lower the absurd bonding requirements the state put on drilling shallow gas wells for the last forty years . May you rest in peace Jim !

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