Federal Court Lifted Biden’s Natural Gas Exports Pause, But The Feds May Not Be ‘Lifting A Finger’ Anytime Soon

The Biden administration does not appear to have any intention of approving new liquified natural gas (LNG) export hubs despite a Monday ruling from a federal court that lifted the policy, according to energy sector experts opposed to the pause and a prominent environmental organization in support of it.

Judge James Cain Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, blocked on Monday the administration’s pause on approvals for new LNG export terminals, less than six months after the White House announced the moratorium in January. Despite the ruling, the federal government is unlikely to start approving the  export capacity that it has been slow-walking, experts told the DCNF.

“I doubt it is going to affect the tempo of the Department of Energy,” Mike McKenna, a GOP strategist who has considerable experience in the energy industry, told the DCNF. “I think Team Biden has already made up its mind to make the pause permanent in the event they win. The study is just to make that seem more rational and less political. The judgment won’t affect any of that.”

The White House ordered the Department of Energy (DOE) to pause new approvals while the agency conducts a study on the climate impacts of LNG exports to be considered alongside economic and security implications. The White House has marketed the decision as one of its biggest climate moves, though energy sector experts have explained that the policy will likely empower foreign producers that do not produce LNG as cleanly as American companies.

Cain Ruling – LNG by Nick Pope

Other energy sector experts — including David Blackmon, a 40-year veteran of the oil and gas business who still writes and consults on the energy sector — are similarly skeptical that Cain’s order will actually have any impact on the situation that would-be developers and exporters are facing. Blackmon believes that the ruling will have no impact on how the Biden administration proceeds, “not even a little bit,” he told the DCNF.

“[Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm] and her ideologue deputies have an array of administrative options at their disposal to avoid lifting a finger in response to the judge’s order,” Blackmon told the DCNF. “Neither the DOE nor the White House will move in any way on this for one simple reason: This ‘pause’ was an election year political payoff to Biden’s radical climate activist support base from Day 1. Every move this administration makes is based on a purely political calculation, and the overriding politics of the pause have not changed in the wake of Judge Cain’s ruling.”

The DOE told the DCNF on Monday that it disagrees with the decision and is reviewing it. The agency, as well as the White House, did not respond to requests for comment.

In his ruling, Cain characterized the policy as “completely without reason or logic and is perhaps the epiphany of ideocracy.”

Many critics of the administration’s approvals pause have described the decision as nakedly political given that well-funded environmental organizations and activist voters figure to be a key bastion of support for Biden’s reelection bid, which itself has been thrown into doubt after the president put forth a weak performance at last week’s debate against Trump. The Sierra Club is one such group that commended the freeze and has endorsed Biden in the 2024 race.

“While the ruling requires DOE to proceed with evaluating pending LNG applications, this preliminary injunction does not order DOE to issue any specific decisions or stop the critical process of updating the data it relies on to determine whether those applications are in the public interest as required by law,” Sierra Club Staff Attorney Louisa Eberle said in a statement addressing Cain’s ruling. “DOE has the authority—and obligation—to adequately review the true impacts of LNG exports, and we believe they will come to the same conclusion we have, which is that expanded LNG exports are not in the public interest and the pending applications should be denied.”

Cain’s Monday ruling was applauded by industry groups.

“President Biden’s freeze on U.S. LNG export approvals was nonsensical, and the Western District of Louisiana’s action to block the freeze was the right decision,” Anne Bradbury, CEO of the American Exploration and Production Council, a major trade group in the gas industry, said in a statement shared with the DCNF. “The Administration should use this as an opportunity to expedite new U.S. LNG projects because doing so would help our economy, strengthen our national security, and contribute to our shared global emission reduction goals.”

Dan Kish, a senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research, is skeptical that the Biden administration is interested in adjusting its policies in response to unfavorable court decisions.

“All of these things, whether it’s student loans or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the leasing system — offshore and onshore — the administration has just basically ignored the law, and Biden knows that by the time the courts will catch up with him, he’ll get what he wants anyway,” Dan Kish, a senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research, told the DCNF. “I think everyone is just dismissing the ruling, which is tragic in our system. We’ve got a three branch system, and if the executive does something that the courts reject, theoretically, they’re supposed to adhere to it.”

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