Is it 'molecules of freedom' or just natural gas?

By The Associated PressEnergyAssociated Press

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FILE - In this Tuesday, April 2, 2019, file photo, Miguel Cortillo gets a tanker of liquefied natural gas ready at Stabilis Energy in George West, Texas, to transport it to Laredo. An Energy Department official's colorful description of liquefied natural gas is lighting a fire under environmentalists. (Marie D. De Jesus/Houston Chronicle via AP, File)

It's hard to generate interest in a news release about liquefied natural gas exports, but a high-ranking Trump administration official succeeded by calling the stuff "molecules of U.S. freedom."

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Words matter after all.

Earlier this week, the Energy Department announced it was approving more exports of liquefied natural gas from a Texas terminal on the Gulf Coast.

Assistant Energy Secretary Steven Winberg, who signed the order, said exporting the fuel is good for U.S. jobs and the economy and for the energy security of America's allies.

His agency is helping let "molecules of U.S. freedom to be exported to the world," he said.

Another Energy Department official, Mark Menezes, said expanding the Texas facility's export capacity "is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world."

Some people went on Twitter to make fun of the colorful language, but environmentalists opposed to wider use of gas said it was no laughing matter.

"This is an absurd attempt to rebrand natural gas, and it shouldn't fool anyone," said Rachel Cleetus, a climate expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She said the Trump administration is exporting reliance on natural gas instead of promoting renewables such as solar and wind energy.

"Natural gas is still a fossil fuel," she said. "What the world desperately needs is freedom from runaway climate change."

The dust-up highlighted a more fundamental debate about natural gas.

Gas supporters note that as more power plants burned natural gas and many coal-fired plants were retired, U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases fell for many years. But that trend has slowed, and environmentalists prefer renewables over natural gas — a byproduct of which is methane, a powerful heat-trapping chemical linked to climate change.