House passes bill to speed up liquefied natural gas exports

The House on Wednesday passed legislation to expedite the federal approval process for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.

It was approved 277-133, with 41 Democrats voting in favor of the measure sponsored by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).

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The Energy Department must determine whether each export application is within the country’s national interest, thanks to a decades-old law written when gas was scarce. The United States is currently the top gas producer in the world.

Under the bill, the Energy Department would have 30 days to review an application, starting from when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission completes its environmental review for a project.

"The window of opportunity for LNG exports will not remain open indefinitely, so it's important that Congress act immediately," Johnson said. "With the passage of this legislation, even more LNG will be free to go to places that need it the most."

But many Democrats denied that the Obama administration is holding up the applications.

"There is no backlog or delay at the [Department of Energy] to speak of," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "So legislation to impose an arbitrary 30-day deadline on DOE as suggested by the underlying bill is simply unnecessary."

The issue has taken on a new urgency in recent years as Republicans and some Democrats have started to see natural gas exports as a way to help eastern European countries avoid having to buy gas from Russia, thus weakening the power that Russia holds through its near monopoly on gas in the region.

The measure is similar to a bill sponsored by Sens. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoMcAuliffe: I wouldn't want a 'caretaker' in Kaine's Senate seat Goonies, Pokemon and ‘transsexual shake’ speak to raucous scene at convention GOP passes rules vote over outcry from Trump opponents MORE (R-Wyo.) and Martin HeinrichMartin HeinrichWeek ahead: Republicans dig into FCC agenda Dem senators blast ‘sprawling’ expansion of spy power Overnight Cybersecurity: Questions linger after Clinton email probe MORE (D-N.M.), though that bill would give a 45-day window. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on that bill Thursday.

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) is sponsoring a bill that takes a different approach to increasing natural gas exports.

Under his bill, the Energy Department would no longer have to approve any export application for the 160 member countries of the World Trade Organization.

The Obama administration said Johnson’s bill isn’t necessary after a series of steps the Energy Department took last year in an attempt to streamline the review process.

“The Department of Energy has already taken steps to modernize the LNG export approval process and ensure applications are looked at efficiently and expeditiously,” a White House official said. “This process is working well, and we don’t believe that legislation is necessary.”

The House passed similar legislation last year by a vote of 266-150. 

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