By Laura Sanicola and Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The head of the largest U.S. oil and gas lobby group on Wednesday said that if regulators slow down or stop approving liquefied natural gas exports, they will put allies in Europe and Asia at risk.
American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers issued the warning in response to media reports this week that the administration of President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is considering whether to weigh climate change criteria in approvals for LNG terminals or expansions.
“Halting US LNG approvals would put our allies at risk. This should not be controversial,” Sommers said at an API event focused on top issues for 2024, adding that US LNG exports help reduce global emissions by displacing coal overseas.
Ahead of the Nov. 5 presidential election, the Biden administration is balancing demand for U.S. LNG from European allies reducing dependence on gas from Russia, with outcry from environmentalists demanding a halt domestic fossil fuel projects.
The U.S. has become the world’s biggest exporter of LNG even as the administration has sought to transition away from fossil fuels, with environmentalists pressuring it to go faster.
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reviews for LNG export permits have lengthened under Biden to 11 months or more, from seven weeks under former President Donald Trump, a Republican who worked to maximize U.S. energy output.
Officials from the DOE and White House have been meeting to determine whether federal regulators should factor in climate change when deciding whether a proposed gas export project meets the national interest, Politico reported on Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the discussions.
The DOE had no update on its LNG approval process, a spokesperson said.
The Biden administration passed the biggest climate bill in U.S. history, the Inflation Reduction Act, and has imposed numerous climate regulations.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has become the world’s biggest oil and gas producer. That has prompted protests from environmentalists including author Bill McKibben and groups in the U.S. Gulf coast to stop future approvals for LNG exports including from Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass 2 (CP2) project in Louisiana.
CP2 is awaiting approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, followed by export authorization from the DOE, before construction can begin.
Venture Global spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes said “American LNG is the best weapon in our arsenal to quickly displace global coal use and combat climate change.”
Environmental groups said they will hold a sit-in at the DOE from Feb. 6-8 to seek a halt in licensing new LNG terminals.
The groups have also urged the administration to adhere to campaign promises and international climate commitments.
In December, the U.S. agreed along with nearly 200 countries at UN climate negotiations in Dubai to transition away from fossil fuel production.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, Timothy Gardner and Laura Sanicola; Editing by Mark Porter and David Gregorio)