Washington, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA-02), Nanette Barragán (D-CA-44), and Jennifer McClellan (D-VA-04), sent a bicameral letter along with over 60 of their colleagues to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) urging the agency to update how it determines if new licenses for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to non-free, U.S. trade countries are in the public interest. The letter highlights concerns that DOE’s current approach to making these determinations does not fully or accurately consider how these exports impact the climate, environmental justice, or domestic energy prices.
The lawmaker’s letter comes just as Data For Progress and Fossil Free Media released a new polling report finding voters are in strong support of limiting natural gas exports “by a 2-to-1 margin and want to see new export facilities paused until the proper reviews are completed.”
The letter highlights that DOE has never rejected an LNG export application on the basis of negative impacts to the American people, and urges meaningful consideration of the costs to the climate and consumers when reviewing new export licenses.
“U.S. LNG exports have doubled over the past four years, and projects currently under development are set to almost double exports again. DOE’s case-by-case approach to approvals ignores the aggregate impact that the explosive growth in U.S. LNG exports is having on climate, communities, and our economy,” the lawmakers write.
The lawmakers’ letter comes as DOE is approving LNG exports—and, as the lawmakers note, “scientific reports, including a recent peer reviewed study from Brown University and RMI, have found that natural gas can be as bad for the climate as coal, when only small methane leaks are factored in.”
The lawmakers strongly encourage DOE to develop an approach that is informed by the latest climate and economic analysis, and which is transparent and open for public comment. “By exacerbating climate change, LNG exports also pose a threat to environmental justice at home and abroad, because the impacts of climate change fall most heavily on low-income communities and communities of color,” wrote the lawmakers.
“Finally, LNG exports drive up household energy burdens across the country, a key issue for all of our constituents. The EIA found that ‘higher LNG exports create a tighter domestic natural gas market … increasing domestic natural gas prices’ and this link was on clear display when an explosion at Freeport LNG sent domestic gas prices plummeting and its restart caused them to rise sharply again,” they continued.
With the Department’s anticipated decision on the CP2 export application, a proposal to create one of the largest LNG terminals ever, the stakes could not be higher.
“No public interest determination will be viewed as credible unless the perspectives of the public are heard, understood, and reflected in DOE’s decision on CP2 and across the board,” the letter concludes.
In addition to Merkley, this letter is also cosigned by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).
In addition to Huffman, Barragán, and McClellan the letter is signed by Representatives Alma Adams (D-NC-12), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-03), Julia Brownley (D-CA-26), Greg Casar (D-TX-35), Sean Casten (D-IL-06), Yvette Clarke (D-NY-09), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO-05), Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), Jasmine Crockett (D-TX-30), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA-10), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY-13), Daniel Goldman (D-NY-10), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA-37), Ann Kuster (D-NH-02), Barbara Lee (D-CA-12), Mike Levin (D-CA-49), Seth Magaziner (D-RI-02), James McGovern (D-MA-02), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-12), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01), Katie Porter (D-CA-47), Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Robert Scott (D-VA-03), Mark Takano (D-CA-39), Shri Thanedar (D-MI-13), Dina Titus (D-NV-01), Paul Tonko (D-NY-20), Ritchie Torres (D-NY-15), Juan Vargas (D-CA-52), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-07), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-07), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-AT LARGE), Antonio Cardenas (D-CA-29), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Delia Ramirez (D-IL-03), Sara Jacobs (D-CA-51), Dwight Evans (D-PA-03), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-01), Frederica Wilson (D-FL-24), Kathy Castor (D-FL-14), Jesús Garcia (D-IL-04), Andrea Salinas (D-OR-06), Judy Chu (D-CA-28), Betty McCollum (D-MN-04), Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05), Summer Lee (D-PA-12), and Val Hoyle (D-OR-04).
Full text of the letter can be found here and follows below:
Dear Secretary Granholm:
We write to urge the Department of Energy (DOE) to update how it determines whether new licenses for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports are in the public interest. Under the Natural Gas Act, DOE is required to use determine whether it is in the public interest to export LNG to counties where the U.S. does not have an existing free trade agreement (FTA). We are concerned that DOE’s current approach does not fully or accurately consider how LNG exports negatively impact the climate, environmental justice communities, or increase domestic energy prices. US LNG exports have doubled over the past four years, and projects currently under development are set to almost double exports again.  DOE’s case-by-case approach to approvals ignores the aggregate impact that the explosive growth in U.S. LNG exports is having on climate, communities, and our economy.
We encourage DOE to develop a generally-applicable approach, informed by updated climate and economic analyses, for how it will consider the aforementioned factors in LNG export permit determinations. This approach should be laid out in a transparent manner in guidance or rulemaking, which DOE should open to the public for comment. DOE also must ensure going forward that it consistently applies this approach in its review of all LNG export applications. DOE has never rejected an LNG export application on the basis of adverse impacts to the American people, and we urge DOE to consider at what point additional export licenses are no longer consistent with the public interest.
In particular, DOE continues to assess proposed LNG export projects using outdated and insufficient methods of measuring climate impacts. DOE’s assumption that all LNG exports yield net climate benefits is both outdated and inconsistent with the latest climate science, as is the assumption that project-specific emissions will be offset.  Scientific reports, including a recent peer reviewed study from Brown University and RMI, have found that natural gas can be as bad for the climate as coal, when only small methane leaks are factored in. Analysis from the Sierra Club has found that lifecycle emissions of all existing and proposed LNG export terminals would be equivalent to681 coal plants or 548 million gasoline-powered cars annually, putting domestic and global climate targets out of reach. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has also found that LNG exports are the driving force behind forecasted gas production growth. At a time when Americans across the country are experiencing ever-harsher climate impacts, it is imperative that DOE make decisions about additional LNG infrastructure in a way that fully takes into account the climate costs of these projects.
Increased LNG exports also have important implications for environmental (in)justice, and DOE should ensure that its public interest determinations follow the letter and spirit of President Biden’s Executive Order on Revitalizing our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All. LNG exports pollute communities along the whole value chain of LNG production, including those located near fracking wells and pipelines, in the areas where LNG is liquefied, and also in the communities overseas where it is imported and combusted. By exacerbating climate change, LNG exports also pose a threat to environmental justice at home and abroad, because the impacts of climate change fall most heavily on low-income communities and communities of color.
Finally, LNG exports drive up household energy burdens across the country. The EIA found that “higher LNG exports create a tighter domestic natural gas market … increasing domestic natural gas prices” and this link was on clear display when an explosion at Freeport LNG sent domestic gas prices plummeting and its announced restart caused them to rise sharply again.  DOE’s public interest determination for LNG exports should consider the effect that these additional exports will have on US consumers already suffering from inflation, particularly low-income households, whose energy burden is typically three times higher than non low-income households.
It is critical that DOE assess the climate, environmental justice, and consumer impacts when determining whether exports are in the public interest, especially as the agency considers its current pipeline of 16 LNG export projects under review. With the agency’s pending decision on the Calcasieu Pass 2 (CP2) export application, in particular, the stakes could not be higher. Once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issues a decision on the project, DOE will make its own determination regarding whether or not exports from CP2 exports to non-FTA countries are in the public interest. It is long past time for DOE to update and clarify how it determines whether LNG export projects are in the public interest, starting with the CP2 project. No public interest determination will be viewed as credible unless the perspectives of the public are heard, understood, and reflected in DOE’s decision on CP2 and across the board.
We thank you for your consideration and look forward to DOE’s swift action to improve both the process and the criteria by which the agency determines whether LNG exports are in the public interest.