Energy & Environment

Biden official defends gas permitting pause amid bipartisan scrutiny

The No. 2 official at the Energy Department defended the Biden administration’s move to pause new permits for some natural gas export projects as tensions among lawmakers flared at a Senate hearing Thursday.

Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk, testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, fielded questions from a number of lawmakers, especially Republicans, who opposed the pause. 

“Russia continues its brutal war in Ukraine … Iran’s proxies are waging a terrorist campaign against Israel,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said. “In times of war, is it wise to give our allies and partners and neutral parties across the world an excuse to do business with our enemies?”

“We’ve already tripled just over the last five to six years in terms of our export,” Turk responded. “You look at that huge growth, and then you compare that with what our allies need.”

The Biden official said the climate portion of the federal government’s review would focus on both leaks of potent plant-warming gas methane from existing operations as well as the long-term impacts of exporting the fuel.

“A scenario consistent with achieving our net-zero goals says we need 75 percent less liquified natural gas … exports around the world by 2050, so those are stark numbers, and we’ve got to take that very much into account,” he later added. 

The administration’s pause, which applies to not-yet-approved projects that would ship gas abroad, has been met by significant pushback, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joining Republicans in criticizing it Thursday. 

“If we were talking about considering a pause, this is a great, great panel for this. You have an executive order doing a pause,” Manchin said. “They put the cart before the horse … You really leaped before you looked.”

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, proceeded to defend the administration’s move during a heated exchange with Manchin.

“I think it’s just the opposite,” King shot back. “Their job is to see that these projects are in the public interest, there’s no way to do that without the data.”

“You can’t do the pause first though,” Manchin said.

“So they’re supposed to continue approving projects? Continue approving projects when you find out five years from now it was a disaster — I don’t think that’s a very good plan,” King responded.

Manchin later added that the pause was “ill-advised” because it’s “sending out to the world right now that we might not be in the market.”

Tags Angus King David Turk gas permitting Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Barrasso

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