Sign In or Create an Account.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy


Today’s Senate Hearing Was a Pretty Great Example of Climate Policy-Making

Honest debate — can you imagine!

David M. Turk.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

In the sort of happy coincidence that is only possible in Washington, D.C., two consequential linguistic debates unfolded on Thursday morning within half a mile of each other. The first, in the Supreme Court of the United States, commanded the attention of major TV networks and political pundits, warranted a live blog from The New York Times, and aimed, in part, to differentiate between what constitutes an “insurrection” versus a mere “riot.”

A five-minute walk away, in room 366 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, a similar debate was unfolding — albeit after some live-stream technical difficulties and a brief protest by the climate group Third Act. The event didn’t elicit quite the same level of national intrigue as the hullabaloo on the other side of Constitution Avenue; in fact, I never saw more than 173 other people watching the feed along with me at any given point. The senators’ debate, though, was an important one, and it centered largely on the meaning of the word “pause.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Republicans on the House Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee had a similar debate earlier this week about the Biden administration’s pause on approving new permits for facilities to export liquified natural gas. But while that hearing had been a silly (and at times, infuriating) example of the GOP’s contorted defenses of the oil and gas industry, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the LNG pause felt a little more meaningful. Ironically, that’s partially because nothing really was said.

Called by cantankerous West Virginia Democrat and committee Chairman Joe Manchin, the Senate hearing took place in two parts: The first and most interesting saw Deputy U.S. Energy Secretary David Turk make the first on-the-record defense of the export terminal pause by a Biden administration official. In contrast, the second part called as witnesses a European gas executive and an LNG industry advocate, each of whom made predictable noises about the threat of energy volatility in the face of revanchist Russia.

Though Manchin, in his opening remarks, said he “strongly” urged the Biden administration to reverse the export terminal permitting pause “immediately,” he and other skeptical senators appeared to be at least partially open to Turk’s opinion on everything from whether “it is wise to give our allies and partners and neutral parties across the world an excuse to do business with our enemies” to how long the DOE’s re-evaluation of what it means for a new export terminal to be “in the public interest” would take.

They appeared less satisfied with Turk’s unwillingness to give them firm answers, however. Regarding LNG export terminals supporting European energy security, Turk explained, “We need to look at how much we’ve already authorized, how much we’re already in the process of authorizing, and compare that to what our allies absolutely need.” When pressed about a timeline for the length of the pause and the DOE’s decision-making, he committed to “months, not years” but stressed “there are a lot of questions,” and rigorous analysis takes time. Later, James Watson, a witness and executive of Eurogas, suggested Turk had been unforthcoming because he’d been “asked to explain the unexplainable, which is not easy to do.”

In fact, Turk’s deferrals underscored why a pause is so necessary, something further drawn out during a rare back-and-forth between senators following a comment by Manchin. “If we were talking about considering a pause, this is a great, great panel for it. But you have an executive order doing a pause: that’s the difference,” Manchin said.

“I think it’s just the opposite, Mr. Chairman,” Maine Democrat Angus King pushed back. The DOE is “doing their job and their job is to see that these projects are in the public interest. There’s no way to do that without the data.”

“You can’t do the pause first, though,” Manchin said.

“Why not?” King responded. If you don’t pause first, “then you’re approving projects when you find out, five years from now, that it was a disaster.”

There are a lot of valid and complicated questions about LNG, which will take time to answer. But hot air loves a vacuum, especially in Washington, and Republicans have seized the opportunity to spin the pause as a “ban” or a “stop” — as in, “basically, you’re stopping things,” in the words of Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski. But “nobody’s talking about stopping,” King later pointed out during the second witness panel after Turk had left. “We’re talking about taking a period of time in order to do the necessary research.”

That, after all, is the unsexy truth of climate policymaking: It isn’t exciting. There aren’t cameras waiting outside for shouted questions. It’s not covered by liveblogs or cable news chyrons. Maybe only 173 people will even bother to take time out of their mornings to troubleshoot where the live stream has migrated to when it doesn’t appear on the committee website. So, while “pause” is an easy word to throw around and even easier to exaggerate, what it should mean in practice is todo the math and do it right.

Turk repeatedly said the DOE welcomes debate, including with a forthcoming public comment period on its findings. Even Manchin seemed to embrace the disagreements and nuances of the topic at hand. “I enjoyed that!” he exclaimed on a hot mic after Turk’s testimony and his back-and-forth with King.

That doesn’t mean anyone changed anyone else’s mind on Thursday; I don’t think Manchin was more dissuaded than when he woke up this morning that the Biden administration had “put the cart before the horse” even in simply taking a break on LNG approvals. But in a rare absence of political theater on the Hill, a government official said there’s still more to learn and debate, and everyone seemed to agree.

Jeva Lange profile image

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.


Is Sodium-Ion the Next Big Battery?

U.S. manufacturers are racing to get into the game while they still can.

Sodium-ion batteries.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Peak Energy, Natron Energy

In the weird, wide world of energy storage, lithium-ion batteries may appear to be an unshakeably dominant technology. Costs have declined about 97% over the past three decades, grid-scale battery storage is forecast to grow faster than wind or solar in the U.S. in the coming decade, and the global lithium-ion supply chain is far outpacing demand, according to BloombergNEF.

That supply chain, however, is dominated by Chinese manufacturing. According to the International Energy Agency, China controls well over half the world’s lithium processing, nearly 85% of global battery cell production capacity, and the lion’s share of actual lithium-ion battery production. Any country creating products using lithium-ion batteries, including the U.S., is at this point dependent on Chinese imports.

Keep reading...Show less
Electric Vehicles

AM Briefing: Tesla’s Delay

On Musk’s latest move, Arctic shipping, and China’s natural disasters

Tesla Is Delaying the Robotaxi Reveal
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Heavy rains triggered a deadly landslide in Nepal that swept away 60 people • More than a million residents are still without power in and around Houston • It will be about 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Berlin on Sunday for the Euro 2024 final, where England will take on Spain.


1. Biden administration announces $1.7 billion to convert auto plants into EV factories

The Biden administration announced yesterday that the Energy Department will pour $1.7 billion into helping U.S. automakers convert shuttered or struggling manufacturing facilities into EV factories. The money will go to factories in eight states (including swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania) and recipients include Stellantis, Volvo, GM, and Harley-Davidson. Most of the funding comes from the Inflation Reduction Act and it could create nearly 3,000 new jobs and save 15,000 union positions at risk of elimination, the Energy Department said. “Agencies across the federal government are rushing to award the rest of their climate cash before the end of Biden’s first term,” The Washington Post reported.

Keep reading...Show less

What the Conventional Wisdom Gets Wrong About Trump and the IRA

Anything decarbonization-related is on the chopping block.

Donald Trump holding the IRA.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The Biden administration has shoveled money from the Inflation Reduction Act out the door as fast as possible this year, touting the many benefits all that cash has brought to Republican congressional districts. Many — in Washington, at think tanks and non-profits, among developers — have found in this a reason to be calm about the law’s fate. But this is incorrect. The IRA’s future as a climate law is in a far more precarious place than the Beltway conventional wisdom has so far suggested.

Shortly after the changing of the guard in Congress and the White House, policymakers will begin discussing whether to extend the Trump-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2025. If they opt to do so, they’ll try to find a way to pay for it — and if Republicans win big in the November elections, as recent polling and Democratic fretting suggests could happen, the IRA will be an easy target.

Keep reading...Show less