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House GOP Defends Fossil Gas Exports as Industry Profits at Consumers’ Expense

Fossil industry-backed House Republicans advanced a bill to undo Biden’s pause on climate-warming LNG export terminals.

Rep. August Plfuger, a top recipient of contributions from the oil and gas industry, introduced legislation to declare all sales of domestically produced fuel overseas to be "in the public interest."

House Republicans backed by the oil and gas lobby passed legislation on Wednesday that would end the Biden administration’s “pause” on permit approvals for new liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals by declaring all sales of domestically produced fuel overseas to be “in the public interest” despite rising costs to consumers.

Following pressure from climate activists and frontline communities, the Biden administration announced in January a temporary pause on federal permits for the construction of massive new LNG export terminals while the Department of Energy updates the process for modeling impacts to the environment and the domestic economy.

Under federal law, regulators must consider whether fossil gas exports are “in the public interest,” and no LNG terminal permits have been denied over the past decade of infrastructure expansion fueled by the fracking boom. The bill to end the LNG permitting pause, H.R. 7176, would declare all fossil fuel imports and exports to be “in the public interest,” essentially stripping regulators of their power to deny construction permits for new LNG export terminals.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. August Pfluger, a Texas Republican listed as a top recipient of contributions from the oil and gas industry during the current cycle after raising $1.6 million from the industry. Pflueger’s district lies northwest of Austin, miles away from the export terminals and refineries that dominate the Gulf Coast.

House Republicans passed the bill on Wednesday in a 212-208 vote that fell along party lines.

In recent House and Senate hearings on LNG, Republicans found themselves in the awkward position of supporting the rapid expansion of fossil gas exports at a time when the industry is enjoying massive profits and consumers are feeling the pinch, with the cost of home gas bills rising 29 percent between 2020 and 2023.

Without the Biden administration’s pause on permits for new export terminals, the cost of gas could increase by up to 14 percent per year, according to analysis by Energy Innovation. A massive expansion of LNG export infrastructure in Louisiana and other new projects are currently under consideration, and energy bills for household consumers and businesses would increase by $11-$18 billion per year if the legislation passed, with the largest burden falling on low-income households.

Climate justice groups applauded the permitting pause, arguing further expansion of export terminals would lock in decades of global fossil fuel consumption while increasing pollution in already overburdened communities along the Gulf Coast. The United States is the world’s number one exporter of liquified fossil gas, and the process of production and global distribution leaks intense amounts of climate-warming methane into the atmosphere at virtually every step.

Republicans from fossil fuel-producing states slammed the pause as preelection pandering that undermines U.S. dominance in international energy markets, and the House Committee on Rules approved the legislation to undo the pause in a party-line vote on Tuesday. During the Senate hearing on LNG, Republicans allied with Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia and champion of fossil fuels who has considered switching parties.

Biden’s pause “only enriches our adversaries, jeopardizes our allies and further threatens America’s economic future,” said Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

Burgess and other Republicans argued European allies are “desperate” for U.S. fossil gas exports, but progressive European lawmakers say this claim is a baseless industry talking point.

Moreover, climate experts previously told a House committee that China is expected to be the top purchaser of LNG from the U.S. in the future, not the European countries that relied on U.S. fossil gas imports to confront energy shortages caused by Russia as part of its war on Ukraine.

Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey, slammed the House GOP bill advanced this week as a “free pass to raise prices on Americans to provide cheap gas to our adversaries.” The Energy Department has already permitted enough LNG terminals to triple U.S. exports by 2030, Pallone said.

“I also want to note how ridiculous it is that the same Republicans who refuse to support aid for our Ukrainian allies express concern about European LNG,” Pallone said.

The Biden administration’s pause only impacts permits for proposed terminals, not exports from many existing LNG terminals that helped the U.S. become the world’s top exporter. In a statement, the White House said it “strongly opposes” the legislation, but President Joe Biden stopped short of issuing a veto threat.

“This would undermine the ability of the United States to ensure that export of a critical and strategic resource is consistent with our economic, energy security, foreign policy, and environmental interests,” the White House said.

In a recent blog post, Jasmine Jennings, an attorney at the environmental justice group WE ACT, and Morgan Johnson, a senior staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, argue that the pause on new LNG permits is a win for people living in the shadow of fossil fuel pollution and on the front lines of the climate crisis, as well as lower-income consumers facing unaffordable utility bills. The pause will allow federal regulators to address these inequities.

“Communities most impacted by the production of exported gas often face disproportionate cumulative impacts of pollution and associated health burdens including asthma, lung and cardiovascular disease, cancer, preterm births, and premature deaths,” they write.

The bill is expected to face an uphill battle in the evenly divided Senate, highlighting the partisan divide over the future of energy as Democrats push for modest climate action and the GOP works in lockstep with the fossil fuel lobby.

This story has been updated with the results of vote by the full House.

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