Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

A federal court on Monday blocked the Biden administration’s pause on approving new facilities that export liquefied natural gas, dealing another legal blow to the president’s ambitious climate agenda.

In a decision issued late Monday, U.S. District Judge James D. Cain Jr. ruled in favor of Louisiana and 15 other Republican-led states that had challenged the move. The judge, who was appointed by Donald Trump, wrote that the pause “is completely without reason or logic and is perhaps the epiphany of ideocracy [sic].”

The ruling represents the latest example of how the judiciary is increasingly constraining President Biden’s climate goals at the behest of conservative and corporate challengers. Last week, the conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court issued a pair of decisions that sharply curtailed the power of federal agencies to address climate change, air pollution and other pressing environmental problems.

The White House announced in January that the Energy Department would temporarily stop approving new liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects while studying their effects on climate change, the economy and national security. The presidential directive was poised to delay the approval of nearly a dozen LNG projects past the November election.

The pause had no effect on LNG projects that are already approved or under construction. But the Republican attorneys general from the 16 states argued that the White House had illegally skirted the regulatory process for issuing the pause, which they said would devastate their fossil-fuel-dependent economies.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill (R) applauded the ruling Monday, calling it a “major victory for American energy.”

“As Judge Cain mentioned in his ruling, there is roughly $61 billion dollars of pending infrastructure at risk to our state from this illegal pause,” Murrill said in a statement. “LNG has an enormous and positive impact on Louisiana, supplying clean energy for the entire world, and providing good jobs here at home.”

Charisma Troiano, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said in an email that the agency “disagrees with today’s ruling. The Department continues to review the court’s order and evaluate next steps.”

The ruling means the Energy Department must resume its consideration of permit applications for new LNG export projects. But it is unclear how soon the agency will act; the Natural Gas Act says only that the department must “expeditiously” determine whether these projects are “in the public interest.”

U.S. LNG exports have doubled over the last four years. The projects already approved and under construction are expected to again double the United States’ LNG export capacity in the next four years. Almost all of these projects are along the Gulf Coast, mostly in an industrial region straddling Louisiana and Texas that is already home to many petrochemical plants.

Roishetta Ozane, the founder of Vessel Project of Louisiana, an environmental justice group, said the decision could mean that poor and minority communities along the Gulf Coast are burdened with more contamination.

“If they continue to approve these projects, that’s going to mean more pollution in our communities,” Ozane said in an interview Monday.

Environmentalists slammed the decision by Cain, who last year ruled in favor of Louisiana and the fossil fuel industry in a dispute over offshore oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s no surprise that a Trump judge would bend the law to hand the oil industry a win,” Craig Segall, vice president of the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action, said in a statement. “ … Corporate polluters have gone judge shopping to find a Trump-appointed ideologue to accept their short-sighted, profit driven view that would advance their fossil fuel agenda without regard for their impact on communities, climate or domestic energy prices.”

Spokespeople for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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