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Josh Shapiro warns Joe Biden gas stance could hurt election hopes

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Joe Biden’s ban on new US natural gas exports has become “critical” to Pennsylvania, the state’s governor said, as he urged the president to reverse the policy or risk losing votes in a crucial 2024 swing state.

Josh Shapiro, a Biden ally and rising star in the Democratic party, warned the administration’s recent decision to pause approvals for new liquefied natural gas projects was hanging over Pennsylvania, where the shale gas industry is a major employer.

“For whatever reasons that the administration put the pause in place I hope that it is very rapid,” Shapiro told the Financial Times. “This is critically important to our state.”

Shapiro’s comments come as Republicans try to paint Biden’s climate policies as damaging to the economy and hostile to voters, while backing the 2024 presidential campaign of Donald Trump, who has vowed to promote fossil fuels.

Opinion polls show Trump and Biden in a tight race in Pennsylvania, a state that could determine who wins the White House in November. Both men are campaigning aggressively in the state, with Trump due to hold a rally in Schnecksville next week.

Biden has sought to project himself as a leader in tune with blue-collar workers in states such as Pennsylvania, while also retaining support from progressive Democrats who have backed his efforts to green the US economy.

Shapiro said natural gas could play a role in the green energy transition, telling the FT it was “a false choice” to suggest policymakers have to choose between jobs and protecting the planet. “We can do both.”

The White House declined to comment on Shapiro’s criticisms.

A poll last month found 58 per cent of Pennsylvanians opposed the Biden administration’s LNG pause — a policy, announced in January, that will temporarily halt applications to build new export plants in the Gulf of Mexico.

Biden defeated Trump in the state in 2020 by just over 80,000 votes, or about 1 percentage point. Hillary Clinton lost there to Trump in 2016 by fewer than 45,000 votes.

Pennsylvania is the US’s second-largest shale gas-producing state after Texas, accounting for about a fifth of the country’s total output. The fracking surge in recent years has made the US the world’s biggest exporter of LNG — superchilled fuel that can be shipped globally and has been crucial to Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked an energy crisis.

LNG plants are big consumers of shale gas produced in areas such as western Pennsylvania — and drillers were banking on a wave of new planned projects to buy more fuel in future.

“They’re beating the industry like a piñata,” said Camera Bartolotta, a Republican state senator from south-west Pennsylvania, a prolific shale-gas region. “Biden’s LNG export pause creates uncertainty and costs jobs.”

Aside from Shapiro, other high-profile Democrats have put pressure on Biden over the issue. In February, Pennsylvania’s two Democratic senators, John Fetterman and Bob Casey, expressed concerns about the pause and warned they would push for a reversal if it put energy jobs at risk.

The LNG pause has also emerged as a bargaining chip in Washington, with Mike Johnson, the Republican Speaker of the House, recently suggesting that its reversal could be a precondition for his party to support White House requests for Ukraine funding.

Other Republican lawmakers have said the LNG pause must be scrapped before they agree to release federal funds to rebuild a bridge that collapsed in Baltimore last week.

The Biden administration defended the LNG pause this week in a letter to the American Petroleum Institute, a Big Oil lobby group that has campaigned against it, saying the approvals process needed updating because of “the profound changes in both the US and global natural gas markets”.

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