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Biden administration considers overhaul of natural gas export approval process, throwing major Gulf projects into question

The Biden administration is contemplating an overhaul of the way federal agencies approve massive natural gas export projects to allow for consideration what the climate impact of those facilities would be, according to an environmental advocacy source familiar with the plans.

The overhaul would effectively pause the federal approval process for a massive and controversial gas export project known as CP2, the source said – a facility that is being proposed for the southwest Louisiana coast, as well as other natural gas projects that are pending federal approval.

The administration’s potential change in posture on these facilities comes as President Joe Biden gears up for a tough reelection campaign, seeking to win the support of young, climate-minded voters. Environmental groups have recently turned their focus to the surge of new and planned fossil fuel infrastructure along the Gulf Coast – and the Biden administration’s role in approving it.

The administration is considering a broad overhaul of how the Department of Energy makes so-called public interest determinations – a key step needed to approve liquified natural gas facilities. This could include updating how the administration determines climate impacts of these projects, modernizing and updating the climate impact considerations, and considering the full upstream and downstream life cycle impacts of these projects, the source said.

The Energy Department, which is responsible for making public interest determinations as one step in the approval process, has never rejected a proposed natural gas project on these grounds.

The White House declined to comment. The Department of Energy did not return CNN’s request for comment. The New York Times and Bloomberg also reported the administration is considering changes to how it approves natural gas projects.

Natural gas is big business for the US fossil fuel industry, which has been exporting much of the product to other countries, particularly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Europe’s subsequent move away from Russian gas. US companies have stepped in to fill that gap, compressing or freezing gas at export terminals and shipping it across the ocean in enormous tankers.

Biden is facing pressure on all sides as climate groups push back on the continued greenlighting of natural gas projects and the fossil fuel industry continues to invest in them. The CP2 project, which could export up to 20 million tons of natural gas a year, is the largest natural gas export facility proposed to date in the US and has been the subject of contentious debate.

Shaylyn Hynes, a spokesperson for CP2’s owner Venture Global, said the reported plans from the Biden administration would “create uncertainty about whether our allies can rely on US LNG for their energy security” and would “shock the global energy market.”

Environmental groups, who maintain the US is already producing and exporting enough gas to satisfy the energy needs of its foreign allies, cheered the plan.

“That decision would be one we would get behind; these LNG export projects have been rubber stamped up to this point,” said Mahyar Sorour, the director of beyond fossil fuels policy at the Sierra Club. “We’re encouraged.”

CNN Business’s Matt Egan contributed to this report.

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