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Biden Administration Must Explain Failure To Require Climate Change Impact For Gas Export Pipeline

WASHINGTON – Public Citizen today demanded an explanation for why the U.S. State Department granted a “favorable recommendation” for a pipeline intended to export natural gas – without requiring an analysis of the impacts it will have on exacerbating climate change. The State Department’s approval came after the Bureau of Energy Resources ignored a request just two weeks earlier by the State Department’s Office of Global Change for a comprehensive emissions review. 

Public Citizen’s call for transparency around the decision comes as U.S.Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and other key Biden Administration officials address the United Nations’ 28th COP climate convening in Dubai. 

“The Biden administration must explain why it is allowing a major fossil fuel export pipeline to be built, at the very moment it is traveling to global climate talks to call for ambitious climate action,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “Why did the government backtrack on a modest demand for a greenhouse gas emissions analysis for a pipeline and instead rubber stamp a major fossil fuel project? The green light for the Saguaro pipeline project shows yet again that the Biden Administration’s support for unfettered fossil fuel exports compromises its position to address the climate crisis.” 

In December 2022, Oneok, Inc applied at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a Presidential Permit to construct and operate the Saguaro pipeline, which would stretch 155 miles from West Texas’ Waha Hub to Mexico, connecting the Permian Basin with proposed Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) export terminals on Mexico’s pacific coast. 

On November 8, Hagen Maroney, Deputy Director of the State Department’s Office of Global Change, emailed FERC requesting the agency perform “a greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions analysis for the Saguaro pipeline project that covers lifecycle upstream and downstream ghg emissions rather than only the local project construction and operation ghg emissions described in FERC’s Environmental Assessment for the project. Providing a full lifecycle ghg analysis for the Saguaro project would be consistent with the September 21, 2023, Fact Sheet: Biden Harris Administration Announces New Action to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Combat the Climate Crisis, in which the President directs agencies to consider ghg impacts in environmental reviews conducted pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).”

On November 13, FERC replied that the State Department request was “beyond the scope of the Commission’s analysis in this proceeding,” but nonetheless requested Oneok to respond to State’s email. Oneok submitted its reply on November 20, and, citing FERC’s determination that the State Department request was beyond the scope of the proceeding, declined to provide the requested GHG analysis.

Just two days later, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, the Assistant Secretary of the State Department Bureau of Energy Resources, “provided a favorable recommendation for the issuance of a Presidential permit” with no further requirement or mention of a lifecycle GHG analysis that State had requested just two weeks prior.

While most LNG exports depart from the U.S. Gulf Coast, Oneok’s proposed 48-inch export pipeline will incentivize expanded fracking to fuel exports through Mexico to serve Asian markets. Per a 1953 Executive Order, FERC must obtain a “favorable recommendation” from the Department of State prior to issuing a Presidential Permit authorizing the construction of a pipeline that crosses the borders of the United State for the exportation of natural gas.

Public Citizen is a party to the FERC proceeding and has raised a protest. America has quickly emerged as a natural gas production and exporting behemoth, producing more gas than any other nation and has vaulted to the world’s top gas exporter. 

On Tuesday, Public Citizen submitted a FOIA request for records regarding the proposed Sagauro pipeline in an effort to understand the State Department’s “favorable recommendation.” 

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