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From The Ministry Of Truth: The U.S. Will Export More 'Freedom Gas'

President Trump speaks on energy infrastructure at the Cameron LNG Export Terminal in Hackberry, La., on May 14, 2019. (Gerald Herbert/AP)
President Trump speaks on energy infrastructure at the Cameron LNG Export Terminal in Hackberry, La., on May 14, 2019. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

You don't expect transcendent writing to emerge from the federal bureaucracy. But this would surely make George Orwell shake his head in disgust:

Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy.

The quote is from a Department of Energy press release about a recently opened plant in Texas where natural gas is liquefied and put on tankers for shipment to foreign ports. The official who wrote it managed to jam a measure of clumsy propaganda into the questionable syntax of that single sentence.

The most jarring phrase is the latest addition to the administration’s Newspeak lexicon, “freedom gas,” which the Department of Energy is happy to be spreading "throughout the world.”

Government agencies generally choose their words with care when delivering political messages. Here, they’ve chosen to talk about spreading gas — an odd-sounding locution, faintly scatological and slightly menacing.

But this isn't just any gas that’s spreading — it’s “freedom gas.” Later in the press release, natural gas becomes "molecules of U.S. freedom."

It’s as if adding the word “freedom” to the name of something commonplace imbues it with patriotic virtue. Most people remember “freedom fries,” although fewer will recall that it was France’s lack of enthusiasm for the Iraq War in 2003 that inspired them.

A “freedom fighter” is what the mainstream press calls a guerrilla in political favor, like the insurgents in Afghanistan back in the 1980s before they morphed into al-Qaida.

“Freedom gas” as a propaganda device is an awkward attempt to convey that the export of U.S. gas liberates nations like Poland and Ukraine from having to buy fuel from Russia. The U.S. never exported gas from the lower 48 states until 2016. Now, exported gas has become central to Trump’s “energy dominance” policy, and the administration readily uses it as a geopolitical lever against its adversaries.

The next misdirection is the familiar claim that natural gas is clean energy, a convenient lie that the gas industry and its allies recite like a catechism. Natural gas is not a clean fuel -- burning it produces carbon dioxide, which traps heat in the atmosphere and acidifies the oceans. And it’s less clean when it’s liquefied because the energy-intensive liquefaction process and refrigeration costs diminish the advantage gas has over coal.

In this June 9, 2014 file photo, drivers and their tanker trucks, capable of hauling water and hydraulic fracturing liquid, line up near a natural gas burn off flame and storage tanks in Williston, N.D. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
In this June 9, 2014 file photo, drivers and their tanker trucks, capable of hauling water and hydraulic fracturing liquid, line up near a natural gas burn off flame and storage tanks in Williston, N.D. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Then there’s the suggestion that America is giving this “diverse” source of energy to its allies. Of course, America isn’t giving its allies anything at all — multinational fossil fuel corporations are selling the gas to the highest bidder on the global market. And since many of these same corporations are generous with their donations to the Republican Party, the Trump administration is eager to help them out.

That issue aside, it’s a mystery what’s diverse about American natural gas. Most likely, the official just meant “gas that isn’t from Russia.”

The press release doesn’t mention that there might be a nominal reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions if some of the exported gas displaces coal for power generation. The administration is hardly concerned about the environmental impact of fossil fuels. To the contrary, Trump views concerns about climate change as impediments to fossil energy expansion.

A recent article in the New York Times detailed efforts to stifle climate scientists by narrowing the scope of government research, truncating projections of climate disruption at 2040 rather than at the end of the century, when the full effects of global warming are likely to be felt.

Still more Orwellian, Trump is considering a proposal for a “Presidential Commission on Climate Security,” a panel of climate skeptics ostensibly convened to undertake an objective review of firmly established climate science, but whose true purpose would be to sow uncertainty in the mind of the public. The underlying intent is to gain political support for the deregulatory agenda of the fossil fuel industry. The likely chair of the panel would be Will Happer, who famously declared that "demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the Jews under Hitler."

Maybe someday, when we have an administration willing to take meaningful action on climate change, we’ll see press releases from the Department of Energy that extol our “freedom turbines” and “freedom panels.” In the interim, the government propagandists in the Trump administration need to sharpen their writing skills. This press release should be sent back to the Ministry of Truth for a rewrite.

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Frederick Hewett Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Frederick Hewett is a freelance writer living in Cambridge. He writes about energy, climate, politics and Boston.

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