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US pipeline agency pulls back climate impact plan

Amid pushback from industry and lawmakers in both political parties in the United States, federal energy regulators have scaled back plans to consider how natural gas projects affect climate change and environmental justice.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, said a plan to consider climate effects will now be considered a draft and will only apply to future projects.

Industry groups and key lawmakers had criticised a proposal approved last month to tighten climate rules, saying it was poorly timed amid a push for increased natural gas exports, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called the climate policy “baffling,” while Democratic Senate Energy Committee Chairman Joe Manchin said the agency’s “reckless decision to add unnecessary roadblocks” to approval of natural gas projects puts the security of the American nation at risk.

“At a time when we should be looking for ways to expedite the approval of these important projects, the (energy) commission has chosen, on a purely partisan basis, to do the exact opposite,” McConnell wrote in a letter on March 24, hours before the panel backtracked on the climate proposal.

Climate activists accused FERC of bowing to political pressure, a claim FERC Chairman Richard Glick denied.

“I’m not going to do anything for political purposes,” he told reporters, adding that he and other commissioners have had discussions with numerous pipeline and natural gas companies since the panel approved the climate policy last month. Industry leaders told them the policy changes “raise additional questions that could benefit from further clarification,” Glick said.

At a February 17 meeting, the energy commission approved policy statements directing officials to consider how pipelines and other natural gas projects affect climate change and environmental justice. The statements were approved on a three-to-two vote along party lines, with Glick and two other Democratic commissioners supporting the policy changes and two Republicans opposed.

The panel said at the time that the new guidance would take effect immediately and apply to pending and future gas projects. The panel voted unanimously on March 24 to step back from that commitment, which is now labelled as a draft and would apply only to projects filed after FERC finalises the policy statements.

The commission said it will seek further public comment before making a final decision.

In a related development, FERC approved three natural gas projects that have been pending before the panel for months. Two of the projects will expand gas production in the US Gulf Coast, while the third is located in New York state. One of the projects will connect with an export terminal in Louisiana for liquefied natural gas or LNG.

The US sharply increased LNG exports to Europe in the run-up to the Ukraine war, and is looking for ways to “surge” LNG supplies to Europe to help reduce the European Union’s, EU, dependence on Russian gas, said Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser.

The EU imports 90 per cent of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost 40 per cent of EU gas and a quarter of its oil.


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