Editor’s Note: Mark Wolfe is an energy economist and a public policy expert on climate change and the impact of rising temperatures on low-income families. He is executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association and the Energy Programs Consortium. Tyson Slocum directs Public Citizen’s Energy Program, covering the regulation of petroleum, natural gas and power markets. He serves on the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Energy and Environmental Markets Advisory Committee and its Market Risk Advisory Committee. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion at CNN.



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This winter, Americans are facing the steepest home heating prices in more than 10 years. With many already struggling to afford basic necessities like food and rent, higher energy bills mean some will be facing service disconnection – and a winter without heat. The Biden administration must do more to protect households from higher energy prices.

Tyson Slocum

Overall, home heating prices are estimated to increase by about 17% this year from last winter. And natural gas, which is used for home heating and as a feeder fuel for producing electricity, is expected to see prices increase by almost 29%, according to an analysis from the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association.

While the causes of energy price fluctuations are often complicated, the Energy Information Administration reported in its December Short-Term Energy Outlook that natural gas prices are expected to increase due to higher demand and rising exports. Since 2017, natural gas exports have more than doubled, and in 2021 they increased by 26%. The US became the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (natural gas that’s in a cool, liquid state) in the first six months of 2022.

For one thing, nearly all foreign gas hubs are priced significantly higher than in America, providing ample opportunity for traders to export US natural gas to profit off the difference between the higher prices in other parts of the world and prices in the US. And since the war in Ukraine began earlier this year, the US has increased exports to Europe as Russia cut back its own exports there.

The increase in natural gas exports does not mean that the US should increase drilling. Rather, it should boost investments in energy efficiency measures and electrification of buildings and wind and solar technologies, as all are needed to help American consumers escape their dependence on fossil fuels like natural gas. But in the short term, we need to protect families from high prices.

The US Department of Energy decides the level of natural gas that can be exported to other countries. Before it approves a new export license, it must determine that natural gas exports are “consistent with the public interest.”

But is the Department of Energy really approving licenses “consistent with the public interest”? Recently, some of the nation’s leading energy and environmental policy groups, including the two organizations we represent, sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm asking the Department of Energy to consider whether exports of liquefied natural gas are increasing prices at home and harming lower-income families.

Similarly, 10 US senators sent a letter in February to Secretary Granholm asking the department to review liquefied natural gas exports and their impact on domestic prices, and then develop a plan to ensure that natural gas remains affordable for Americans.

These are important questions. We are not proposing that the US cut off exports to Ukraine or the European Union to reduce domestic prices. Access to natural gas is essential to Europe ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to cut gas supplies there.

But before authorizing any additional shipments, the US government should review natural gas export licenses in the context of their potential to increase domestic prices. And it should consider reducing sales to other parts of the world, especially countries that have been accused of human rights abuses. China, in particular, was the second largest purchaser of US natural gas by volume (via vessel) in 2021, and yet it has been accused of using forced labor of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region to produce goods (China has denied all allegations of human rights abuses). Consumers in the US should not have to pay higher prices for natural gas to help support a government that is routinely accused of violating human rights.

Further, the federal government should consider suspending the Jones Act, which requires that goods shipped between US ports be done only by US-built, owned and crewed ships. But because there aren’t any Jones Act-compliant liquefied natural gas vessels, it is currently impossible to ship US liquefied natural gas to American ports. This limits competition and increases prices for companies and households.

Providing temporary Jones Act exemptions will allow more liquefied natural gas to get to New England ports where it’s needed, and hopefully lower the cost. In fact, in July, the six New England governors sent a letter to Granholm asking the Biden administration to evaluate whether it should suspend the Jones Act for liquefied natural gas shipments this winter for precisely those reasons.

The federal government must step up to the plate this winter and address the impact of high energy prices on low-income families so they do not have to choose between paying their heating bill and other essential necessities.

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