(Bloomberg) -- Activists are accusing a White House-backed task force of illegally operating in secrecy as it develops a plan to wean Europe off Russian energy supplies.
The panel’s work has unfolded behind closed doors since late March, when US President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula Von de Leyen charged the group with helping Europe diversify its gas supply amid Russia’s war on Ukraine. A lack of transparency violates federal advisory committee law, anti-corruption group Global Witness alleges in a letter being sent to Biden on Monday. Environmentalists have separately filed an open records request seeking more information on the group’s work.
“The task force’s operations have to date been shrouded in secrecy,” said Global Witness senior adviser Zorka Milin. That is stoking fears the natural gas industry will have too much influence over its work, she said.
Only government officials of the EU and the US are on the task force — with no outside representatives of industry or other groups — and the Biden administration does not believe it falls under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named describing the panel’s deliberations.
The task force is charting plans to increase liquefied natural gas supplies to Europe by at least 15 billion cubic meters in 2022 — potentially through swift approvals for LNG export and import terminals. LNG exporter Cheniere Energy Inc. has been one of the task force’s “active participants,” Chief Executive Officer Jack Fusco said in a May 4 earnings call. The group has met with other industry members, according to the White House.
Read more: Biden Approves More LNG Export Projects as Russia Cuts Supply
That’s inviting comparison to a controversial White House task force headed by former Vice President — and Halliburton Co. executive — Dick Cheney, which huddled behind closed doors with oil and power utility executives to create national energy strategy in 2001. The group’s work was later criticized by good government advocates and Congress’ investigative arm for its secrecy and bias toward industry. Under the 50-year-old Federal Advisory Committee Act, many government panels are required to be accessible to the public and contain a “fairly balanced” roster of members representing many points of view.
The Biden administration task force is also being headed by a former energy executive, Amos Hochstein, who worked for LNG company Tellurian Inc. before becoming the US senior adviser for energy security. The panel is also helmed by Björn Seibert, head of cabinet of the European Commission president.
LNG industry representatives, community advocates and the makers of smart thermostats, heat pumps and other technology that could be deployed to help Europe reduce energy demand have all met with the group, according to the the person familiar with its work.
The task force is aiming to ensure additional gas volumes to Europe are aligned with US and EU climate targets, in part by decreasing the carbon intensity of American gas that is exported, Melanie Nakagawa, the National Security Council senior director for climate and energy, said last month at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.
But dozens of US lawmakers and members of the European Parliament on Thursday implored von der Leyen and Biden to keep new gas export and import permits completely out of the task force’s final plan. Instead, they said in a letter to the leaders, the group’s report should focus on moving the EU and US “off fossil fuels and onto clean, renewable energy by 2035.”
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