Europe Slams Trump In Public On Climate, Lobbies Him In Private For Natural Gas Exports

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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European leaders criticizing President Donald Trump’s Thursday decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord have also been lobbying the administration to fast-track the approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals.

ProPublica’s Andrew Revkin reported Friday that, while European leaders were “generally basking in the glow of the Paris Agreement,” they’ve been quietly lobbying Trump since February to fast-track approvals of multi-billion-dollar investments in U.S. LNG export terminals.

Maros Sefcovic, who heads the European Union’s commission on energy policy, told ProPublica in April that “LNG exports were a central focus of meetings earlier in the year in Washington with Trump administration officials” to get Europe off Russian-supplied gas.

That same month Secretary of Energy Rick Perry told an energy conference that Europeans “[w]e’re out in the public and they’re giving all these speeches about the Paris accord and all the things we’re going to do, and we get into private meetings, it’s like, ‘How do we get that LNG?'”

“Don’t get up on the front end and make all these speeches about how good you’re doing, when the fact of the matter is you’re not,” Perry said.

European politicians attacked Trump for leaving the deal, and claimed they will double down on it after the U.S. has left.

“We in Germany, in Europe and the world will band together to take more decisive action than ever to confront and successfully surmount major challenges to humanity such as climate change,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, vowed Friday.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that his country won’t even consider the Trump administration’s offer to renegotiate the terms of the Paris climate deal.

“As the article points out, some (but not all) European countries have been pressing for alternatives to Russian pipeline gas for some time,” Richard D. Kauzlarich, former U.S. ambassador to the energy rich nation of Azerbaijan and Bosnia and a professor of energy geopolitics at George Mason University, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “In particular, the Baltic states have been anxious to reduce their dependence on Russian gas and believe that US LNG can help in this regard.”

U.S. LNG exports will have political implications in Europe where about half the continent’s natural gas supply comes from state-owned Russian companies. Foreign policy experts see U.S. gas exports as a way to undermine Russia’s energy dominance in the region.

“Europe lacks a common energy policy, especially about Russian gas imports, so it is difficult for the EU to leverage either the US or Russia,” Kauzalarich said. “On the other hand, the Trump administration wants to expand US energy infrastructure especially gas pipelines and LNG port facilities so the capacity for US LNG exports to global markets – including Europe – will grow.”

About half of Europe’s imported natural gas comes from Russia. This dependence prevented many of America’s European allies from responding more forcefully to Russian actions in Syria and Ukraine.

The rise of the U.S. as a major exporter of natural gas is an enormous change in the way the E.U. could get its electricity and heat. Though Russian state-owned media denies it, most experts agree that merely selling U.S. natural gas to other countries will seriously undermine Russia’s lucrative energy hegemony. It will allow for European and Asian countries to have a much broader choice of natural gas suppliers.

“In response to Qatar LNG exports to Europe and the potential US LNG exports, Gazprom [Russia’s state controlled gas company] has become concerned about maintaining market share,” Kauzalarich said. “In some cases, it has been willing to renegotiate contracts downward to compete.”

Russia has used its gas as a political tool to keep Eastern European countries on a tight leash. Russia interrupted natural gas supplies at least three times since 2006 to put political pressure on Eastern European countries, like Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states. The U.S. sent its first shipment of LNG to Europe in January 2016.

For these countries, increasing American natural gas exports allowed them to reduce their dependence on Russian gas and switch suppliers. Increased competition for natural gas in the world market has already reduced Russia’s bargaining power and export revenue. North American LNG exports could compete against Russian gas, forcing the country to rethink how it treats customers.

The Department of Energy (DOE) gave a Texas-based energy company permission in April to export liquefied natural gas to countries with which the U.S. does not have free trade agreements.

U.S. consumers would deal with minimal costs to export LNG and would reap huge economic benefits, according to a study published in December 2015 by the DOE. The study found that exporting American LNG would provide huge environmental benefits as well, stating that exporting LNG will help “address a variety of environmental concerns in the power‐generation sector.”

Exporting natural gas is likely to be a growth industry, as global demand for natural gas is expected to be 50 percent higher by 2035 than it is now, according to the International Energy Agency. Demand for imports of LNG increased 27 percent in the United Kingdom last year alone.

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