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Energy secretary on the Biden administration's pause of future natural gas exports

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Biden administration has decided to pause approving new natural gas export facilities to review the climate impacts they could have. That is a big deal because demand for U.S. natural gas has increased in recent years, especially in Europe, where many countries have paused exports from Russia. We're joined now by U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM: Thanks so much, Juana.

SUMMERS: Secretary Granholm, a question about timing - why now, and why this decision?

GRANHOLM: This decision is because so much has changed since we last assessed what the public interest is in approving all of these natural gas facilities. So we have authorized so much. We've authorized such an amount that it causes us to say, does this have an impact at home? Does this have an impact on the climate? When I say, does this have an impact at home, I mean does it have an impact on the price for gas at home? So if we're exporting all of this natural gas, what does it do to prices at home, for our competitiveness at home? What does it do, certainly, for the climate? That's a very...

SUMMERS: Right.

GRANHOLM: ...Important consideration. And what does it do for national security as well?

SUMMERS: I want to ask you about that climate consideration. As you well know, we just experienced the hottest year on record, and, of course, human-driven climate change is a big reason why. So it does beg the question, why is the U.S. government assessing environmental impact of natural gas at all when we know that we need to be cutting emissions?

GRANHOLM: Well, we certainly do need to be cutting emissions. You - what you mean is why aren't we just stopping...

SUMMERS: Yeah.

GRANHOLM: ...As opposed to just pausing.

SUMMERS: Mm-hmm (ph).

GRANHOLM: So this is a pause while we do this assessment. There are arguments that natural gas - and this is true - is - has fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal. And as we export natural gas to countries that may be using coal, that may have a positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions. However, the volumes that we are exporting now and the amount that is being exported around the world certainly has a greenhouse gas impact because natural gas is a very potent - has methane in it. It's a very potent emitter of greenhouse gas.

And so we have to figure out, in the United States, what is in the national interest? What's in the public interest? That's what's required by the DOE - to assess that. And that's why these factors, which we have assessed over the past decade - but we haven't done this analysis for four years. And because we haven't done it, we need to upgrade it in light of current events. Circumstances on the ground have changed. The volume of...

SUMMERS: Right.

GRANHOLM: ...Our exports has significantly increased, so we need to make sure we're doing this in the public interest.

SUMMERS: Right. And I have to jump in here because there's also a political question at play because the president and his reelection team are courting climate voters, particularly those young activists we saw in the streets who helped him win the White House in 2020. And this morning, in a statement, the president gave a shout-out to young people, saying that he had heard their voices clearly. How much of this delay has those politics in mind, and how do you think the president plans to get credit from those young voters for this?

GRANHOLM: Well, the young voters are right that there is a huge impact, and we need to do - as a department, the Department of Energy has a responsibility to also take a look at the assessments which we have done on a regular basis. So we need to make this happen now because there are a number of projects that are in the queue, waiting for further approval. Before those are approved, we have to take a look at what the assessment looks like - what does the lay of the land look like? - in order to make sure that, in fact, approving them would be in the public interest. And can I just say quickly, Juana...

SUMMERS: Sure.

GRANHOLM: ...We are the largest exporter of natural gas in the world. We export 14 billion cubic feet. We have another 14 - another 12 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day that is in construction. So we're already almost doubling the amount, and then we've authorized another 22 billion cubic feet. So we've authorized so much that we have to take a look. What are the circumstances that have changed? What is the impact on national security, on our prices at home? What is the impact on the climate?

SUMMERS: And that begs the question - we've got about 30 seconds left here - given that you point out that the U.S. is the leading exporter of natural gas, given that other countries like Qatar and Russia are also major exporters, do you have concerns about economic or national security implications?

GRANHOLM: I do. And that's why we're doing this. I mean, when you say economic implications, what does it mean if we're exporting half of the natural gas that we produce at home? What does it mean for the prices for people at home, for businesses at home? That's an important factor that we are considering. National security...

SUMMERS: Right.

GRANHOLM: We - nothing will change. We are still exporting. All of the facilities that have been approved will still be exporting. We are not cutting back...

SUMMERS: OK.

GRANHOLM: ...On what has already been approved.

SUMMERS: We'll have to leave it there. U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. Thank you for your time, Secretary.

GRANHOLM: You bet. Thanks, Juana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.