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Climate activists deliver demands, wetland samples to Rio Grande LNG funder in New York City

Texas activists in front of Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) headquarters in New York City after hand delivering a letter to the company demanding they divest from the Rio Grande LNG project.
Courtesy photo
Private Equity Stakeholder Project
Texas activists in front of Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) headquarters in New York City after hand delivering a letter to the company demanding they divest from the Rio Grande LNG project.

The fight against the Rio Grande LNG liquified natural gas project outside of Port Isabel and Brownsville was taken to New York City this week.

South Texas climate activists, including Christa Mancias of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas and Bekah Hinojosa of the South Texas Environmental Justice network, hand delivered a letter to the Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) headquarters with more than 90 signatures from climate advocacy organizations on Tuesday. The letter asked the company to withdraw from Rio Grande LNG.

The group also gave the company samples of the wetlands that NextDecade, the parent company of Rio Grande LNG, is currently clearing for the Central Park-sized project. GIP, an investment fund company, is a majority funder of Rio Grande LNG, and it owns 46% stake in the project, with $3.5 billion invested in it overall. The company was recently acquired by asset management company BlackRock with the transaction set to complete sometime later this year.

The Texas activists were joined by representatives from the Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP), the Rainforest Action Network, Another Gulf is Possible and Public Citizen in New York City to deliver the letter, later going to the AIG headquarters in midtown Manhattan to protest the company’s issuing insurance policies to LNG projects along the Gulf Coast. The group then protested outside insurance companies Chubb and Sompo who have issued policies to Rio Grande LNG.

Going to the GIP’s office in person came from the groups trying to meet with company leadership for months to no avail.

“Now, all we can do is show up at their doorstep with our demands and show the firm the real impacts of its investment,” Abhilasha Bhola, senior campaign coordinator with the (PESP), said in a statement. “South Texas does not want to be bulldozed by private equity firms in order to build a costly and dangerous LNG terminal.”

In January, the same groups confronted the Oregon Investment Council about the state’s treasury investing $350 million into a GIP fund that funnels money into the Rio Grande LNG project. This followed the groups going to Washington state in November 2023 to tell the Washington State Investment Board (WSIB) to divest from the $400 million it invested into the same GIP fund for Rio Grande LNG.

Funding from pensions is part of a growing trend in fossil fuel financing that has seen bonds become the largest funding source for new oil and gas projects around the country, including Texas.

The Rio Grande LNG site along the Brownsville ship channel.
Rio Grande LNG Monthly Status Report January 2024
The Rio Grande LNG site along the Brownsville ship channel.

Rio Grande LNG has been under construction since last year after receiving nearly $20 billion in financing, with crews clearing nearly 1,000 acres of land along the Brownsville ship channel which stretches between Port Isabel and Brownsville. The project is now laying pipeline networks under the project site to feed the eventual machinery that will convert gas to liquid.

Rio Grande LNG has still not received full clearance from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to start constructing the machinery that will convert funneled gas to liquid form, however, as it still needs to file their cost-sharing and emergency response plans. Updates on these plans are withheld from the public.

Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG, another liquified natural gas project in the area, have been subject to intense local criticism for their potential pollution and emissions despite being favored by local officials who say the projects will bring jobs. The companies that own Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG have promoted the projects as “green,” but LNG still emits pollutants.

Regulators’ approval of the projects have spurred multiple lawsuits over the years, with those approvals still in litigation with the City of Port Isabel, the Sierra Club, a group of Port Isabel residents known as Vecinos para el Bienestar de la Comunidad Costera and the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, who said the Rio Grande LNG project is on the tribe’s sacred lands and has never consulted with the tribe about the project.

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced a pause on approving LNG projects last month to measure their climate impacts. In response, the House of Representatives passed a bill that attempted to make FERC the sole approving authority for LNG plants, which risks the DOE’s ability to measure the impact and public interest of LNG projects. The bill will likely not pass a Senate vote.

GIP did not respond to TPR's request for comment.

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Gaige Davila is the Border and Immigration Reporter for Texas Public Radio.