A Huge Win for Activists Puts Climate on the 2024 Agenda

A Huge Win for Activists Puts Climate on the 2024 Agenda

This is just what the climate activists wanted.

The White House is delaying a decision about approving a new natural gas megaproject, as my colleague Coral Davenport exclusively reported yesterday, in order to more fully consider its impact on the climate.

The contentious Calcasieu Pass 2 project, known as CP2, would allow the United States — already the worlds’ biggest natural gas exporter — to ship much more liquefied natural gas overseas. Climate activists have rallied for months to block the project on the Louisiana coast, arguing that it would lock in dependence on fossil fuels beyond what the climate can bear.

“I’m super excited and ecstatic,” said Roishetta Ozane, an activist based in Louisiana, where the project would be located. “CP2 is a carbon time bomb.”

Natural gas is mostly methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. While it burns more cleanly than coal, it can leak anywhere along the supply chain, making it just as harmful, according to recent research.

In delaying the approval process for CP2, the White House is directing the Energy Department to consider all greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project — not just its construction. That could include emissions associated with drilling for and transporting the fuel, a change would also affect other pending natural gas terminals.

But that can only happen if President Biden is re-elected.

The politics of climate change are a big factor in the White House making this move. Coral broke the news on the same day that Biden declared: “It is now clear that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. And my message to the country is the stakes could not be higher.”

The Biden administration has been under fire from climate activists upset about the approval of the Willow drilling project in Alaska and the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia. Approving CP2 would have further enraged climate-conscious voters.

“When you look at TikTok and social media, the new voters who will be voting for a president for the first time in their lives, they are angry,” Ozane told me. “They are not going to support this president unless he makes a bold move.”

Slow walking the approval process of CP2 is just what activists like Ozane were looking for.

While the determination was nominally about one project on the Gulf Coast, the move could have far-reaching implications. If the Biden administration decides that CP2 is not in the public interest, it is likely to come to a similar conclusion about 16 other proposed export terminals in the works.

Ahead of the decision, White House climate advisers met with activists like Alex Haraus, a 25-year-old Colorado social media influencer who has led a TikTok and Instagram campaign aimed at urging young voters to demand that Mr. Biden reject the project.

“And we absolutely will reward or punish him on this decision,” Haraus told Coral, referring to Biden.

If Trump is elected, his administration seems almost certain to approve CP2, roll back environmental protections and expand fossil fuel production. “We’re going to drill, baby drill, right away,” he told voters after he won the Iowa caucuses this month.

Biden is only delaying consideration of CP2, rather than rejecting it outright. And it’s possible the administration could approve the project after the election. But Republicans are already gearing up to make the president’s energy policies a campaign issue.

“This move would amount to a functional ban on new L.N.G. export permits,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said on the Senate floor yesterday. “The administration’s war on affordable domestic energy has been bad news for American workers and consumers alike.”

Coral reported that within the White House, there is little division over the decision to delay CP2. That’s partly because the United States is already producing and exporting so much natural gas. Capacity is set to nearly double over the next four years, even without CP2.

For the time being, the activists are counting the decision to delay as a major win. “I’ve called Biden on all of his bull crap,” Ozane said. “But this time I think the president has a real chance to get it right.”

Ozane says she still wants to hear more about the White House’s explanation of its decision to delay consideration of CP2. But she is unambiguous about the stakes of the election.

“We know that if this administration is not re-elected, then everything he’s done on climate is going out the window,” she said.

In early January in San Antonio, dozens of economists packed into a small windowless room to learn how climate change is affecting everything in their profession.

The standing-room-only crowd heard how climate-fueled natural disasters are affecting mortgage risk, railway safety and even payday loans.

The Allied Social Science Associations tends to be a distillation of what the field of economics is fixated on at any given moment. There’s plenty of evidence that climate is in the spotlight.

As Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, put it while moderating a panel on the macroeconomics of climate change: “We’re all climate economists now.” — Lydia DePillis

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