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Trump-Appointed Judge Blocks Biden’s Liquefied Natural Gas Export Pause

The decision follows Supreme Court rulings that may imperil federal agencies' ability to limit planet-warming pollution.

A Trump-appointed judge on Monday blocked the Biden administration’s pause on approvals of new liquefied natural gas export permits, the latest move by the nation’s conservative-dominated judiciary to stop the federal government from taking action against the worsening climate emergency.

Judge James D. Cain Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana sided with more than a dozen Republican-led states that sued over the pause earlier this year, claiming it would harm their economies.

Cain wrote in his ruling that the pause, which temporarily halted the approval process for facilities exporting LNG to countries without a free trade agreement (FTA) with the U.S., was “perhaps the epiphany [sic] of ideocracy.” The judge falsely characterized the pause as a “ban.”

A Department of Energy (DOE) spokesperson said the agency “disagrees” with Cain’s decision and “continues to review the court’s order and evaluate next steps.”

Jamie Henn, the director of Fossil Free Media, called Cain’s ruling an “absurd and nakedly partisan decision untethered from reality.”

“There is no ‘LNG Export Ban’ for the court to overturn,” Henn wrote on social media. “DOE has simply paused new licenses while conducting a review of LNG’s impacts.”

The Congressional Research Service notes that under the Natural Gas Act, LNG exports to non-FTA countries “are presumed to be in the public interest, unless, after opportunity for a hearing, the DOE finds that the authorization would not be consistent with the public interest.” Environmental groups have implored the Energy Department to develop a public-interest test that thoroughly weighs the climate impacts of LNG exports.

The Washington Post reported late Monday that Cain’s ruling “means the Energy Department must resume its consideration of permit applications for new LNG export projects.” The administration’s pause put at least 14 pending gas export projects on hold, according to Earthjustice.

Craig Segall, the vice president of Evergreen Action, argued Monday that Cain’s “deeply misguided” ruling “should have no impact on the Department of Energy’s statutory authority over what must be included in a public-interest determination.” Segall added that “pause or no pause, the science is clear: No sound analysis that accounts for the climate and environmental harm inflicted by LNG exports could possibly determine that these deadly facilities are in the public interest.”

“It’s no surprise that a Trump judge would bend the law to hand the oil industry a win,” said Segall. “Corporate polluters have gone judge shopping to find a Trump-appointed ideologue to accept their short-sighted, profit-driven view that would advance their fossil fuel agenda without regard for their impact on communities, climate, or domestic energy prices. The Biden administration should appeal this baseless ruling immediately and ultimately make clear it stands with the public interest, not Big Oil.”

Climate advocates have argued that the United States’ status as the world’s largest LNG exporter is harmful to both consumers and the planet, pushing up domestic energy costs while threatening to lock in decades of potent emissions as fossil fuel-driven extreme weather intensifies and scientists warn the world is barreling toward devastation.

Cain’s decision to block the Biden administration’s LNG export pause came after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down several rulings that could imperil federal agencies’ ability to limit planet-warming pollution.

“Coupled with last week’s court rulings, rolling back the LNG pause shows that Trump judges are hellbent on torching environmental safeguards, the climate, and our democracy,” said Lauren Parker, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “This ruling means the Energy Department should deny any more LNG exports and facilities. Halting the massive and dangerous expansion of these exports is the right thing to do for Gulf Coast communities, wildlife, and all of us who hope to keep living on a sustainable planet.”

Cain’s ruling also came days after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — an agency increasingly embraced by Republicans and the fossil fuel industry — approved Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass 2 (CP2) LNG terminal, which if completed would become the nation’s largest fracked gas export terminal and increase daily U.S. gas exports by roughly 20%.

“A rubber stamp from FERC is business-as-usual for fossil fuel projects,” Lukas Ross, climate and energy justice deputy director at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement last week. “Thankfully CP2 has a long way to go and we intend to fight it every step of the way. No amount of lobbying will make this project anything other than a climate and environmental justice nightmare.”

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