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White House open to ending LNG export pause in push for Ukraine aid, sources say

Published 04/02/2024, 03:58 PM
Updated 04/02/2024, 05:15 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Storage tanks and gas-chilling units are seen at Freeport LNG, the second largest exporter of U.S. liquified natural gas, near Freeport, Texas, U.S., February 11, 2023. Reuters/Arathy Somasekhar/File Photo

By Jarrett Renshaw, Patricia Zengerle and Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials are open to ending President Joe Biden's pause on approvals of liquefied natural gas exports to get a Ukraine aide package passed in Congress but want to wait to see the entire proposal before making any decisions, two White House sources said on Tuesday.

Biden, a Democrat, in late January had paused approvals for pending and future applications to export the supercooled fuel after protests about the booming industry from activists concerned about its impact on climate change.

Republican U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson suggested on Fox News on Sunday that reversing Biden's pause on LNG export approvals could make it easier for his party to support a new aid package for Ukraine's fight against Russia.

"We want to have natural gas exports that will help unfund (Russian President) Vladimir Putin's war effort there," said Johnson, from Louisiana, a state rich in gas production and LNG projects.

Reversing the pause could be tolerable to the White House in order to advance Ukraine aid, in part because the pause has no bearing on near-term LNG exports, the White House sources said.

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

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, declined comment at a briefing on Monday, calling the idea "hypothetical."

The U.S. last year became the world's largest LNG exporter, and capacity to export LNG is expected to double before the decade ends on already approved projects.

"I don't think it's as hard for the White House to give in on this as it would seem because they can tell the climate folks substantively nothing has changed: 'We have not approved new exports, we have not changed the docket,'" said an industry source with knowledge of the discussions.

Russia has been a large oil and gas supplier to Europe, but since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Europe has increasingly purchased U.S. LNG.


Activists are concerned that rising LNG exports can harm local communities with pollution, lock in global reliance on fossil fuels for decades, and lead to emissions from burning gas and from leaks of the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

LNG backers counter that a prolonged pause could backfire by leading economies in Asia to turn to dirtier coal, while also complicating Europe's efforts to diversify away from Russian energy.

Both Republicans and Democrats say the national security supplemental bill that includes the Ukraine aid package would pass the House with about 70% of votes, the same bipartisan margin with which a version passed the Senate in February.

But Johnson, whose party has one of the smallest House majorities in history, is under pressure from the hard-right wing of his party to oppose Ukraine aid and has so far blocked a vote.

The Speaker also is a close ally of former Republican President Donald Trump, who is running again in this year's presidential election and has suggested any assistance for Ukraine should be loans, not grants.

Lifting the LNG pause would ease some of that pressure by appealing to Republicans from energy-producing states.

The House returns to Washington next week.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Storage tanks and gas-chilling units are seen at Freeport LNG, the second largest exporter of U.S. liquified natural gas, near Freeport, Texas, U.S., February 11, 2023. Reuters/Arathy Somasekhar/File Photo

Some Democrats in the U.S. Senate from gas producing states have also raised concerns about the LNG pause, including Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet.

Ending the pause is one of a few proposals that Johnson has suggested could be added to a new version of the bill. He is also considering adding the "REPO Act," legislation that would help set the stage for the U.S. to confiscate Russian assets and hand them over to Ukraine for reconstruction.

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