House panel OKs bill to fast-track nat­u­ral-gas ex­ports

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

A House panel Wed­nes­day ap­proved a bill to fast-track U.S. nat­u­ral-gas ex­ports as a way to lessen Rus­sian in­flu­ence over Ukraine and Europe, but the mea­sure is ex­pos­ing di­vi­sions within the Demo­cratic Party and parts of Amer­ica’s busi­ness com­mu­nity.

The leg­is­la­tion passed the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee by a vote of 33 to 19, with five Democrats break­ing ranks and join­ing their Re p u b l i c a n coun­ter­parts in sup­port­ing it. Au­thored by Rep. Cory Gard­ner, Colorado Repub­li­can, the bill sets a strict timetable that the En­ergy Depart­ment must fol­low when de­cid­ing whether to ap­prove or deny liq­ue­fied natur a l - gas (LNG) ex­port ter­mi­nals. Sup­port­ers ar­gue such projects are more cru­cial than ever, as U.S. fuel over time could free Ukraine and east­ern Euro­pean na­tions from re­liance on Rus­sian gas.

“It sends a se­ri­ous sig­nal to the world that the United States is ready, will­ing and able to help our al­lies,” Mr. Gard­ner said.

The bill would re­quire the En­ergy Depart­ment to make a de­ci­sion on nat­u­ral-gas ex­port projects within 90 days af­ter the close of pub­lic com­ment pe­ri­ods, which are re­quired for each pro­posal.

The depart­ment cur­rently is re­view­ing about two dozen ap­pli­ca­tions, the ma­jor­ity of which would have to be ap­proved or de­nied within three months if the bill be­comes law.

Red-state Democrats up for re-elec­tion this year — such as Sen. Mary Lan­drieu of Louisiana and Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska — strongly back the idea of us­ing Amer­ica’s vast sup­ply of nat­u­ral gas both as a for­eign-pol­icy tool and a way to cre­ate Amer­i­can jobs. They’re joined by pow­er­ful oil-and-gas in­dus­try groups such as the Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute.

Af­ter ini­tially dis­miss­ing nat­u­ral gas ex­ports as a way to re­spond to the cri­sis in Ukraine, the White House in re­cent weeks has sharp­ened its rhetoric on the im­por­tance of “en­ergy se­cu­rity” for Ukraine and Europe as a whole.

But or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Amer­ica’s En­ergy Ad­van­tage, which rep­re­sents Al­coa, Dow and other com­pa­nies and pub­licly-owned gas dis­tri­bu­tion com­pa­nies, ve­he­mently op­pose the mea­sure, say­ing that ex­pand­ing gas ex­ports will raise costs for do­mes­tic gas users. Many within the Demo­cratic Party also op­pose the bill on en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist grounds.

While the ex­port bill is ex­pected to pass the House eas­ily, it faces an un­cer­tain fu­ture in the Se­nate, where Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid may con­front a bi­par­ti­san ma­jor­ity that backs the mea­sure.

Mr. Reid’s of­fice did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Wed­nes­day on whether the Ne­vada Demo­crat sup­ports the bill, or whether he’ll bring it up for a vote when it ar­rives in his cham­ber.

With the bill one step closer to be­com­ing law, its op­po­nents aim to shoot holes in the no­tion the leg­is­la­tion truly will help Ukraine, Ger­many and other na­tions to es­cape Moscow’s grip when it comes to nat­u­ral gas. Ukraine gets more than half of its nat­u­ral gas from Rus­sia, while Rus­sia is the sin­gle largest sup­plier of the fuel to Europe.

They also ar­gue the leg­is­la­tion, if adopted, will chip away at Amer­ica’s emer­gence as a global en­ergy leader.

“This bill has it back­wards, as it will ad­van­tage our over­seas com­peti­tors while rais­ing gas and elec­tric­ity prices on ev­ery Amer­i­can con­sumer and busi­ness,” Amer­ica’s En­ergy Ad­van­tage said in a state­ment. “That is ex­actly the wrong ap­proach with our econ­omy still stuck in first gear.”

Some Democrats also con­tend the bill will raise do­mes­tic en­ergy prices and also could lead to the En­ergy Depart­ment be­ing forced to de­cide on projects be­fore all ap­pro­pri­ate re­views are com­pleted.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rep. Cory Gard­ner, Colorado Repub­li­can, au­thored the bill that would fast-track U.S. nat­u­ral-gas ex­ports. Fol­low­ing com­ment pe­riod, projects would need ap­proval within 90 days.

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