Is the Goal Cleaner Air – Or Something Else?

Published May 14, 2024

In 1991, Oleta Adams sang “Get Here” on “Soul Train.” She spent 23 weeks on the Billboard top 100 with the love ballad, listing all the ways he could get to her: by railway, trailway, airplane, caravan, sailboat, swinging on a rope, by sled, horseback, or even by windsurfing, magic carpet, or hot air balloon. The conclusion is, “I don’t care how you get here, just get here…”

Government regulators like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ought to take that approach, but rarely do. This was the primary controversy surrounding EPA’s regulation of methane emissions, which sought not only to set and enforce standards for the pollutant, but also to dictate a one-size-fits-all outdated technology to monitor emissions.

Governments are often behind the curve in recognizing the latest technology. Innovation invariably moves faster than the intentionally slow processes of government. We saw that with the Biden Administration’s methane regulations, and we are seeing it again with its recent move to halt upcoming liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits. The LNG export moratorium has sparked intense debates around the country, on both sides of the aisle, and will have repercussions for years.

Frankly, the public was blindsided by the Administration’s suddenly announced LNG export permit moratorium. That’s because the U.S. established itself as the world’s largest exporter of LNG last year, surpassing gas-rich nations like Qatar and Australia. In fact, the U.S. positioned itself as a steadfast partner to European countries by assisting them in diversifying their energy sources and reducing dependence on Russian imports. That could have a more profound effect on world peace over the long term than military aid, so the sudden reversal sent a decidedly unfriendly message to Europe.

But threatening our overseas relationships isn’t the only thing at stake. Our national security will face significant threats, as our allies return to importing LNG from foreign adversaries to make up the difference. 

The Administration’s haphazard decision-making on this issue has left members of its own political party dumbfounded. Numerous Democratic senators have expressed concern about the moratorium. Colorado Senator Michael Bennet called it “a short-sighted decision” and further noted “it’s been very important for liquefied natural gas to replace the natural gas Russia was sending to Europe.”

Pennsylvania Senators John Fetterman and Bob Casey, Jr. both publicly encouraged the President to reverse course. They wrote that halting LNG exports would harm Pennsylvania’s economy, “undermine [the President’s] climate agenda, empower Russia and Iran, and create a schism with allies who depend on this clean energy to fuel their countries.”

It was a shock because only two years ago, the administration intended to deliver essential aid to a Europe grappling with energy shortages, aiming to mitigate the impact resulting from Russia’s withholding of crucial energy supplies. Just last year, President Biden said he was eager to ramp up U.S. LNG production and exports to help our allies. Now, in a dramatic and abrupt turnabout, the White House has flipped sides, stunting further energy growth in the U.S. and hanging its allies out to dry.

The fact remains that natural gas is the cleanest available fuel. U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows it is considered the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel. Producing natural gas results in fewer emissions of nearly all types of air pollutants and carbon dioxide, compared with oil or coal. In addition, in 2019 and 2021, despite an increase in production, U.S. natural gas and oil producers reduced methane and CO2 emissions by 28 and 30 percent, respectively. And to bring it full circle, these reductions fit hand-in-hand with the EPA’s stated goal to slash methane emissions by as much as 80 percent in the next decade.

If the Biden Administration wants to see results that help the environment and keep overseas relations intact, the President must realize that rash decision-making may pander to supportive interest groups, but it will not achieve these goals. In the case of the earlier methane rule, EPA listened to many of the concerns about its initial proposal, and attempted to address them by allowing companies to apply a variety of methane emissions detection technologies. But the abrupt decision on LNG exports takes a completely different approach, not letting companies help determine the best way to achieve goals, but again trying to dictate the technology to be used. It risks economic stability, may force allies back under Russian influence, and will likely lead to higher domestic prices – not to lower emissions.

If President Biden truly wants to meet his aggressive climate goals, regressive policies like restricting emissions monitoring technologies or banning LNG exports is a poor start. Deploying promising new technologies, including LNG, would set a clearer direction toward achieving emissions reductions goals everyone supposedly shares.

Cooperation, not edict, is the likely key to success. Government should establish clear goals and be ready to accept various ways to achieve them based on the latest technology. Regulators should come to the table with a simpler message: “We don’t care how you get there, just get there.”

Photo by Attribution 2.0 Generic.