On May 7, Energy Secretary Rick Perry — the dark-horse pick for Trump’s most competent Cabinet member — announced in Brussels that the U.S. intends to double liquefied natural gas exports to Europe by 2020. Comparing energy diversification to the American effort to liberate occupied Europe in World War II, Perry said that “the United States is again delivering a form of freedom to the European continent.” The Energy secretary added, “Rather than in the form of young American soldiers, it’s in the form of liquefied natural gas.”
Hoping to clarify the bizarre analogy, a European reporter asked if “freedom gas” would accurately describe American natural gas shipments to Europe. “I think you may be correct in your observation,” Perry replied. With this frighteningly dumb exchange, the term “freedom gas” was born, and less than a month later, it is appearing in official DOE press releases.
On Tuesday, the DOE sent out an official letter announcing the expansion of a liquid natural gas depot in Texas, in which Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes borrowed the term coined in Europe: “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.” Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg assured fans of liquefied natural gas that, even on a molecular level, the stuff is dripping with patriotism. “I am pleased that the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of U.S. freedom to be exported to the world,” Winberg said.
The last decade of skyrocketing natural gas output in the United States has transformed the American energy portfolio to the point that the U.S. Energy Information Administration expects the country to be a net exporter of energy as soon as 2020. For those like Secretary Perry, relatively unconcerned with the wholesale collapse of the environment, the boom in liquid natural gas has granted a sense of freedom from America’s postwar reliance on foreign energy. But for advocates demanding a revolution in clean energy, the country’s shift to natural gas means that another fossil fuel is dominating the U.S. electricity mix.
Hopefully for Secretary Perry, the Department of Energy’s rollout of the “freedom” nickname works better than the last time a GOP official gave it a shot. In 2003, Republican Representative Bob Ney expanded on a North Carolina restaurateur’s decision to take French fries off the menu and replace them with something a little freer. Because the French were “sitting on the sidelines” of the second Iraq War, Ney changed some Francophile options in congressional cafeterias to “freedom fries” and “freedom toast.” But by 2006, Ney was out of office, and the next year, he was sentenced to 30 months in jail on unrelated charges of corruption. The North Carolina restaurant that started the freedom-fries kick has since closed.