Obama administration ‘can comply’ with natural gas export bill

A Department of Energy (DOE) official told lawmakers Thursday that his agency would be able to comply with the Senate’s bill to speed up liquefied natural gas (LNG) export application reviews.

The DOE’s willingness to comply comes despite the Obama administration’s statement Wednesday that the bill is not necessary because of changes the department made last year to streamline the approval process for proposed exports to countries without United States free trade agreements.

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“Certainly if this legislation is passed as currently written, the department will be able to accomplish the mission, we will as always accomplish the letter and spirit of the law, and we believe this is a solution that we will be able to comply with,” Christopher Smith, the DOE’s assistant secretary for fossil energy, told Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Bipartisan group of senators urges FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote MORE (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTo stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US GOP senator: Iran is behind attack on Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Wyo.), a member of that panel, has sponsored a bill to put a 45-day limit on the DOE’s legally-required determination of whether or not a particular export application would be within the country’s “national interest.”

In written testimony to the panel in advance of its Thursday hearing on the bill, Smith repeated the White House’s sentiment, saying that the bill is not necessary in light of last year’s change.

The DOE now conducts its public interest review only after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) completes an environmental review of an export project, which the agency said would better focus its resources on viable projects that might actually be built.

“If this is the legislation that’s passed in its current form, we can comply with … the law,” Smith said.

The Barrasso bill is also sponsored by Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichO'Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats Senate panel advances Trump's nominees to lead Air Force, Army Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine MORE (D-N.M.) and co-sponsored by eight more senators, half Republicans and half Democrats.

“Our bill ensures that the secretary will make a timely decision on LNG export applications and that legal challenges to decisions on LNG export applications will be resolved expeditiously,” Barrasso said.

“Our bill will give investors greater confidence that LNG export projects will be permitted and built.”

Heinrich had similar words and sought to ensure his Democratic colleagues that there would be no negative economic impact from increased natural gas exports.

“Recent studies show that the industry can fully support modest levels of exports of LNG with minimal impacts on consumers, while boosting the nation’s economic output and jobs,” he said.

But it was clear from the hearing that not many Democrats believed him, despite the Democratic co-sponsors and 41 House Democrats voting for a similar bill in the House.

“We know jobs are created when we build export facilities, but we also know ... that using natural gas to increase American manufacturing output is twice as valuable to the overall economy and creates eight times more jobs than exporting,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

Stabenow said exporting to places like China could increase prices domestically because the Chinese government could help companies there pay a much higher price than United States companies.

“I don’t want a China-first policy, which I’m afraid this is. I want an America-first policy,” she said.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said the bill’s benefits would only come to natural gas producers and those states.

“The EIA [Energy Information Agency] just says this is going to increase the price of natural gas,” he said. “This is going to increase the price of electricity to every Minnesotan, of heat to every Minnesota. The cost of operations to every Minnesota manufacturer.”

“This does Minnesota no good whatsoever.”

Murkowski predicted that the bill would pass the committee easily and get a vote on the Senate floor within months.