Flouting Biden pause, agency OK’s largest LNG terminal in US

Whether the Louisiana project is built may hinge on federal study of climate and economic impact of the burgeoning liquefied natural gas industry

Flouting Biden pause, agency OK’s largest LNG terminal in US
Venture Global, which owns this methane (liquefied natural gas) export facility in southeast Louisiana, plans to build a second terminal next door. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted 2-1 Thursday to approve the proposal, which critics say would emit a massive amount of greenhouse gases. (Julie Dermansky / Julie Dermansky Photography LLC)

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Despite a much publicized pause on the approval of liquefied natural gas terminals in the United States, a federal regulatory agency Thursday approved the construction of the nation’s largest LNG terminal, months before that pause is set to end.

The 2-1 vote of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approving the $10 billion Calcasieu Pass 2 in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, doesn’t mean developer Venture Global will begin construction on the facility to export condensed and super-cooled methane. But it is a big step forward for the company, which has been asking FERC to approve its two-and-a-half-year-old application since February.

In a statement after the decision, the company indicated it was waiting for approval from the Department of Energy to export the fuel to some countries — the approvals that were paused by the Biden Administration in January. 

Venture Global CEO Mike Sabel said the project “will be critical to global energy security and supporting the energy transition, as well as provide jobs and economic growth across Louisiana and the United States.” 

Advocates are expected to sue over the FERC approval. “We are ready and willing to take it to court,” said Roishetta Ozane, leader of The Vessel Project of Louisiana, a mutual aid, disaster relief and environmental justice nonprofit. Ozane brought dozens of community members and opponents to the FERC meeting.

“We aren’t going to sit down and let this … come into our community.”

Louisiana activist Roishetta Ozane says residents near the planned Calcasieu Pass 2 liquefied natural gas export terminal are ready to fight it in court. “We aren’t going to sit down and let this… come into our community,” she says. She is seen during a March 2023 hearing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which on Thursday approved the so-called CP2 facility. (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission)

Outgoing FERC Commissioner Allison Clements was the only dissent on the vote, saying the commission had failed to adequately assess the impact of the facility on nearby communities or the climate. Approving the terminal, she said, will result in the equivalent of adding 1.8 million gasoline-powered cars on the roads each year.

For environmentalists and fishers along the Gulf Coast, the vote is a big step back for the community and for climate change. CP2 has been labeled a “carbon mega bomb” by some environmentalists and is expected to single-handedly increase LNG exports by almost 20%.

The terminal would be located in a 60-mile stretch with nine other such facilities in various stages of planning or operation. In all, there are 17 export terminals along the Gulf Coast that are operating, under construction or approved.

This is the location of the planned Calcasieu Pass 2 liquefied natural gas export terminal and its 85-mile pipeline. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of the $10 billion facility Thursday. (Venture Global website)

“Approving CP2 … blatantly ignores the Biden administration's LNG approval pause, which is critical to assessing the severe economic, health and climate risks of the massive expansion of methane export facilities in the U.S.,” said Breon Robinson, a community organizer in southwest Texas for the nonprofit Healthy Gulf who lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana, north of the string of LNG plants.

In January, the Biden Administration ordered the Department of Energy to pause approvals for new liquefied natural gas terminals in order to further study the impacts of exporting methane. The measure halted the federal approval of CP2 and 16 other proposed terminals. FERC is an independent body of regulators appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The moratorium is to give DOE time to review whether exports to countries that don’t have a free trade agreement with the United States, are in the public interest.

The last DOE study was finished in 2018, before production of the fuel skyrocketed — making the United States the world’s largest LNG exporter in 2023. The biggest buyers of LNG for the proposed terminal are in such non-free-trade countries, including Germany and Japan, which have contracted about half of CP2’s output.

Since the pause was enacted, the Biden Administration has faced mounting pressure to end it from the industry and leading Republicans, who have called it a political tactic. Former President Donald Trump has said if he is elected this fall he would immediately allow more exports to move forward. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has said the study is not expected to be completed until the first quarter of 2025.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, also known as methane, went from near zero in 2016 to the biggest exporter in the world in 2023.

Data, including from the government’s own Energy Information Administration, has shown that export of LNG has increased the domestic prices of natural gas for consumers and industry.

But FERC does not consider such impacts, and the body has repeatedly rejected requests to consider the impacts of climate change in its decisions. It has yet to reject an LNG terminal.

Thursday’s decision was based on an environmental impact statement completed last year that found that while the facility and its 85-mile-long pipeline would have some adverse effects, most would be “less than significant” and could be mitigated. Climate change impacts, according to a FERC summary, “are not characterized in the EIS as significant or insignificant.”

Clements said that new information, including about CP2’s emissions, should have been addressed in a supplemental EIS. Instead, she said it was modified to include emissions data given to FERC by the company.

Supporters of the LNG buildout say the exported gas can offset carbon emissions from coal plants in other countries. However, on Tuesday, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis released a report that found renewables in China are doing more to displace coal than LNG. An earlier study by Cornell University Professor Bob Howarth found greenhouse gas emissions from LNG are equivalent to or as much as 274% greater than from burning coal.

In Cameron Parish, which has lost half of its population since Hurricane Rita in 2005, some residents say methane export facilities including CP2 are necessary for the survival of the parish.

“If we didn’t have these LNGs that to come into Cameron Parish to help us with infrastructure, with tax base money, with jobs — see what Cameron Parish would look like,” Howard Romero, president of the Cameron Parish Port, Harbor and Terminal District, said in a video posted by the parish’s governing body.

While Romero claims those opposing the terminal are not from Cameron Parish, a group of fishermen and opponents of CP2 say the opposite is true.

In a filing to FERC this month, the group said an analysis of form letters to FERC in support of CP2 found that none were from Cameron Parish, 75% were from outside Louisiana, and 60% had ties to the fossil fuel industry. They note that more than 15,000 people and organizations wrote comments and letters in opposition to the project.

With FERC’s approval, Venture Global could technically begin building the facility if it secures a final air permit from Louisiana and successfully challenges a complaint filed over its coastal use permit.

With such high dollar amounts involved, however, the project’s financiers are likely to balk without a guarantee that it can send the fuel to CP2’s largest customers, said Gillian Giannetti of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“It is not pragmatic or practical,” she said, “and would be exceptionally bad business.”

Pam is an environment, energy and climate reporter and editor. A long-time New Orleans resident, Pam was part of the Times-Picayune team that published after Hurricane Katrina. pam@floodlightnews.org

Pam Radtke/Floodlight