Biden Admin Leaned On Questionable And Misleading Science To Justify Halting Natural Gas Hub Approvals

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The Biden administration relied on questionable and misleading scientific material to support its decision to pause new approvals of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals.

In January, the Biden administration imposed a moratorium on approving new LNG export terminals so that the Department of Energy (DOE) can expand its reviews to include facilities’ climate impacts, a move celebrated by climate activists and slammed by industry groups and elected Republicans alike. In written testimony to Congress earlier in February defending the policy, Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk pointed to billion-dollar disasters (BDDs) as a proxy for the intensity of climate change, and he also cited projections based on a de facto “worst-case” emissions scenario that critics have derided for failing to accurately project emissions in the present, let alone the future; both statistics are misleading and questionable.

Turk’s testimony states that “our understanding of the economic and human impacts from climate change has only sharpened” since 2019, when the agency last published its estimates for the full lifecycle greenhouse gas impacts associated with American LNG exports.

Turk leads off by comparing the number of BDD events recorded in 2019 and 2023, observing that 2019 saw 14 natural disasters that caused damages in excess of $1 billion while there were 28 such instances in 2023. These statistics are sourced from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (RELATED: Electric Appliance Advocates Backed Study Driving Push To Ban Gas Stoves)

David Turk Testimony by Nick Pope on Scribd

However, using BDD events as a proxy for meteorological conditions is misleading for several reasons. Primarily, this is because population and asset density has increased in coastal areas susceptible to natural disasters. The increased loss potential in coastal areas means that the same exact hurricane in the same exact place may not have caused $1 billion in damages in 1980 as it might inflict today.

NOAA acknowledges as much, having previously told the DCNF that “the number and cost of disasters are increasing over time due to a combination of three things: increased exposure (i.e., values at risk of possible loss), increased vulnerability (i.e., where we build; how we build) and climate change that is increasing the frequency of some types of extremes that lead to billiondollar disasters.”

Put another way, there are several factors that influence the frequency of BDD events other than meteorological conditions and things that are related to climate change. Notably, NOAA does not express natural disaster costs in terms of American gross domestic product (GDP). Roger Pielke Jr. — an academic who writes extensively about politicized science and considers climate change to be a real and serious threat — has conducted his own analysis and found that “North American catastrophe losses as a proportion of U.S. GDP clearly show no upwards trend” over time.

“There is no peer reviewed science that attributes any part of increasing disaster losses to changes in climate,” Pielke previously told the DCNF. “To see evidence of changes in climate, look at climate data, not economic data.” (RELATED: ‘National Embarrassment’: Key Stat Used In Biden Admin’s Landmark Climate Report Is Misleading)

In addition to the BDD statistics, Turk asserts that climate change could result in an annual loss of $2 trillion in federal government revenues by the year 2100, citing analysis conducted by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

However, the OMB analysis relies on de facto “worst-case-scenario” projections that appear to be predicated on the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) scenario. RCP8.5 is essentially the term used by climate scientists to describe a situation in which the world continues to use fossil fuels and produce emissions without adjusting course.

The OMB analysis that Turk cites states that the $2 trillion hit to annual revenues could occur “under a scenario in which climate change reduced U.S. GDP by 10.0 percent compared to a no-further-warming counterfactual, as projected by the Network for Greening the Financial System as the tail risk under current policies.” The Network for Greening the Financial System’s analysis on various climate change scenarios, which the OMB’s analysis cites, was funded by grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the ClimateWorks Foundation, two left-of-center charitable foundations that focus their work on climate change-related initiatives.

The RCP8.5 scenario estimates American GDP loss by 2100 to be 10.52%, according to the International Monetary Fund, putting it on par with the assumptions made by OMB to qualify its claim — cited by Turk in his testimony defending the LNG export terminal approvals pause — that climate change could force a $2 trillion reduction in annual federal revenues by 2100.

However, the RCP8.5 model has serious flaws.

For example, a 2020 paper by two climate scientists published in Nature found that RCP8.5 should not be treated as a reference or baseline case for potential outcomes related to climate change, in part because global carbon dioxide emissions are lower than the levels projected by RCP8.5. The paper argues that the bifurcation between reality and RCP8.5 projections will only intensify over time, referencing the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2019 projections for emissions assuming continuity of current energy policy to make this point.

“RCP8.5 projects to 2100 a six-fold growth in global coal consumption per capita, while the International Energy Agency and other energy forecasting groups collectively agree that coal consumption has already or will soon peak. Also, RCP8.5 foresees carbon dioxide emissions growing rapidly to at least the year 2300 when Earth reaches more than 2,000 [parts per million] of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations,” Pielke wrote in a 2021 analysis that he coauthored with Justin Ritchie, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. “But again, according to the IEA and other groups, fossil energy emissions have likely plateaued, and it is plausible to achieve net-zero emissions before the end of the century, if not much sooner. Today, projections that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels will increase dramatically for the next 50, 100, or 300 years are simply implausible.”

Setting aside the credibility of the statistics Turk cited in his testimony, energy sector experts previously told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the decision will fail to reduce global emissions while also empowering foreign production in places like Russia and Qatar. Would-be importers of American LNG will not scrap longer-term plans to import because the Biden administration has altered timelines for new export capacity, so they will lean on Russian and Qatari LNG that is not produced as cleanly as American gas to plug the gap, the experts told the DCNF.

The Department of Energy and the White House did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

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