Could a TikTok kid kill America’s natural gas economy?

On Friday, President Joe Biden announced his administration was pausing approval of all new U.S. liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals, a move many see as the last step before a permanent ban. While Biden has pursued an anti-fossil-fuel policy since killing the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office, blocking the development of new terminals is an unusually extreme move, even for this White House.

The pause is particularly problematic for the Gulf Coast, where the proposed Calcasieu Pass 2 (CP2) LNG export terminal in Louisiana received bipartisan support.  The project would create thousands of jobs, bring billions of dollars in new economic activity, and process 20 million metric tons of LNG per year. The proposed terminal could also play an important role in providing Europe with natural gas from American suppliers rather than leaving U.S. allies relying on Russian energy.

But it also became the centerpiece of the anti-LNG social media campaign.

How did this happen?

In part, it’s thanks to the efforts of 25-year-old TikTok influencer Alex Haraus of Colorado, who made the LNG issue a cause célèbre with his followers. White House climate advisors met with Haraus before announcing the pause.

Haraus warned the White House, “We absolutely will reward or punish [Biden] on this decision,” the New York Times reported.

In his announcement, Biden appeared to echo the influencer’s message. “This pause on new LNG approvals sees the climate crisis for what it is: the existential threat of our time,” Biden said. And, he added, it includes an exception for “unanticipated and immediate national security emergencies.”

Critics say Biden’s reference to national security reveals the fundamental flaw in his policy. It undermines the geopolitical power of America’s role as the world’s biggest supplier of LNG at a time when enemies of the West, like Russia, Iran, and China, are on the march.

“It is outrageous that this administration is asking American taxpayers to spend billions to defeat Russia while knowingly forcing allies to rely on Russian energy,” Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) said in a statement.

Energy groups also criticized the decision.

“This is a win for Russia and a loss for American allies, U.S. jobs, and global climate progress,” American Petroleum Institute (API) President and CEO Mike Sommers told DCJournal. He accused the Biden administration of playing political games and breaking promises to U.S. allies. “There is no review needed to understand the clear benefits of U.S. LNG for stabilizing global energy markets, supporting thousands of American jobs, and reducing emissions around the world by transitioning countries toward cleaner fuels.”

Climate activists like Haraus, on the other hand, are thrilled.

“This is what we asked for,” crowed Haraus. “It will get the job done!”

Haraus told DCJournal he warned the White House that Biden would suffer politically if he didn’t cancel the new LNG terminal. “Any president who doesn’t scale down fossil fuel infrastructure will lose young votes.”

The Biden White House also contacted climate activist Roishetta Sibley Ozane. She’s based in Louisiana, home of the CP2 project. Ozane told DCJournal a lot of young people are sharing her social media posts and videos.

“They are commenting, they are upset, they are ready to stop this…I think if this decision had not been made, we would’ve seen the youth not vote to reelect this president.”

As for the argument that U.S. allies rely on America’s energy, Ozane hopes green energy will become predominant in the future. “[European] communities want to transition off of fossil fuel as well,” she said. “They don’t want to continue to harm other communities and other people for their sake because they want a cleaner, greener way.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported American LNG exports to Europe jumped 119 percent in 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine. The largest European purchasers in 2023 were The Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland, and Germany.

That’s unlikely to change in the near future, said Scott Lincicome of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “There is a lot of export capacity that has already been approved and is under construction,” he told DCJournal. “Any sort of new approval that Biden might have issued in the next 10 months wouldn’t really affect things for a few years.”

But what about the longer-term horizon? Lincicome worries European markets may see the U.S. as a bad bet over time and turn to other suppliers — perhaps even back to Putin’s Russia.

“Just injecting uncertainty in the process will decrease [U.S.] investment… that’s what the climate lobby wants,” Lincicome said.

Other economists pointed out Biden’s decision may have the reverse effect in his fight against climate change.

“There’s only so much [Europe] can do with renewables because battery technology has its limitations currently,” Philip Rossetti with R Street Institute told DCJournal. “They’re going to need coal, which is what you saw Germany doing, ramping up a lot of coal production.”

Producers have been able to cut pollutants from U.S. coal plants through carbon capturing. That technology is still under development. Plus, China and India use coal-fueled power plants the most due to coal’s cheapness and availability.

As for relying on social media influencers to make climate policy, Rossetti quipped, “Policy decisions need to be focused on what credible analysis shows delivers the best outcomes for everyone, and not just what’s popular in some circles.”