Biden Administration's LNG Pause Defended by Top Official in Senate Hearing

(Reuters) — A top U.S. Department of Energy official on Thursday defended President Joe Biden's pause on approvals of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports at a Senate hearing called by a fellow Democrat who said he will investigate the decision.

Biden paused the approvals so his administration can take a "hard look" at the environmental and economic impacts of the booming industry.

Deputy U.S. Energy Secretary David Turk said in prepared remarks to the Senate energy committee that the review will not affect already authorized exports.

"It will not affect our ability to supply our allies. And it is not an unprecedented step," Turk said.

The hearing was called by Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from natural gas producer West Virginia.

Manchin has said if the pause "is just another political ploy to pander to ... climate activists at the expense of American workers, businesses, and our allies in need, I will do everything in my power to end this pause immediately."

The U.S. took the spot as the world's top LNG exporter last year, and the shipments are expected to double by the end of the decade on projects already approved.

Environmentalists and youth groups, an important part of Biden's base, had pressured Biden to slow approvals of fossil fuel projects on concerns about their emissions of greenhouse gases. Domestic businesses ranging from chemicals and steel to food and agriculture also oppose unrestricted exports of U.S. gas, saying it could raise fuel prices.

It is unclear how opponents of the pause can overturn it. Legislation in both the Senate and the House of Representatives would strip the Department of Energy's power to approve exports, giving all approvals to the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

But it is hard to pass legislation in an election year. Even if it passed the House, the legislation would likely struggle in the Senate, led by Democrats.

The pause could face court challenges. In a letter sent to the administration on Tuesday, a group of 23 Republican state attorneys general claimed the Biden administration's pause is illegal, arguing that the natural gas law requires the Energy Department to approve LNG exports unless it shows that doing so would not be in the public interest.

The group led by West Virginia, Kansas, Louisiana and Indiana claimed the pause is based on "allusions to environmental harms" and conflicts with the congressional intent in the gas law.

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