Boehner: Weaken Russian influence by exporting US natural gas

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday called on the Obama administration to allow more exports of natural gas, which he said is a move that would help weaken the influence of Russia.

Boehner said Russia's involvement in Ukraine is "more than a cause for concern, it's a cause for action." He said Congress would work with the White House to counter Russia's move into Ukraine, but said energy policy should also be a part of the U.S. reaction.

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He said selling more natural gas abroad would help boost U.S. values overseas, but said so far, President Obama's Energy Department is holding these exports back.

"We can supplant Russia's influence, but we won't so long as we have to contend with the Energy Department's achingly slow approval process," Boehner said on the House floor.

Boehner said the Department has received 24 export permits, but has approved only six. "This amounts to a de facto ban only emboldens Vladimir Putin, allowing him to sell large quantities of natural gas to our allies," Boehner said.

"President should do the right thing here, and end this de facto ban so we can strengthen our economy here and our security here and abroad."

Earlier in the day, Boehner indicated that language on natural gas could be part of a Ukraine bill that could come up this week or next.

Soon after Boehner spoke, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) announced on the floor that he is proposing legislation that would require the Department of Energy to expedite all natural gas export permits to Ukraine, all former Soviet nations, and the European Union.

"Ukraine is almost totally dependent on Russia for energy," Poe said. "Russian imperialism has proved that it's willing to use gas as a political, economic weapon to intimidate its neighbors.

"The demand is there and the American supply is overwhelming. The only thing standing in the way are the bureaucrats in the Department of Energy."

Poe also said he would propose a bill to withhold all visas for Russian government officials until the Secretary of State confirms that all Russian military activity in Ukraine has ceased.

Boehner and Poe add to the growing chorus of Republican lawmakers pushing for Obama to expedite U.S. liquefied natural gas exports.

Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), Jim Inhofe (Okla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) all blasted Obama this week for failing to "maintain leadership in the world."

"If President Obama is serious about helping the people of Ukraine, he will immediately expedite the approval process for liquefied natural gas exports," Barrasso said.