Senate bill would greenlight natural gas exports to US allies

A group of Senate Republicans and two centrist Democrats shook up political debates over U.S. natural gas exports Thursday with new legislation that would ensure federal approval of exports to NATO countries and Japan.

Sens. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Gillibrand offers bill to ban pesticide from school lunches | Interior secretary met tribal lawyer tied to Zinke casino dispute | Critics say EPA rule could reintroduce asbestos use GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care Judd Gregg: In praise of Mike Enzi MORE (R-Wyo.), Mark BegichMark Peter BegichFormer GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lobbying world Dem governors on 2020: Opposing Trump not enough MORE (D-Alaska) and several colleagues floated the bill as the Energy Department (DOE) reviews 16 applications to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries that don’t have free-trade deals with the U.S.
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Federal law, according to DOE, generally requires approval of exports to nations that have such trade deals with the U.S., but other applications face much more scrutiny from regulators.

The “Expedited LNG for American Allies Act” would put NATO allies and Japan, which is seeking to expand imports as most of its nuclear capacity remains offline, on equal footing with the formal free-trade partners.

But the prospect of a major export expansion has generated opposition from some big U.S. manufacturing and chemical companies, who fear higher domestic prices, and has drawn pushback from some environmentalists as well.

A slew of oil-and-gas industry and business groups, however, are strongly backing the export plans. Barrasso called exports good for Wyoming, a natural gas-producing state, and the nation as a whole.

“This will expand economic opportunities across America and help lower our nation's trade deficit. Our bill will also promote the energy security of key U.S. allies by helping reduce their dependence on oil and gas from countries, such as Russia and Iran,” he said in a statement about the new bill.

The bill expands on legislation floated late in 2012 by now-retired Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) that would provide automatic approval for exports to NATO countries.

In addition to Japan and NATO countries, the new Senate bill would also require DOE to approve exports to other countries if the State Department, in consultation with the Defense Department, determines that it would promote U.S. security interests.

With debates on exports heating up, many eyes are on new Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech MORE (D-Ore.), who has expressed skepticism about a major expansion.

He has said that Congress should step in to help ensure that regulators find the “sweet spot” on the level of exports allowed. Wyden’s office did not provide immediate comment on Barrasso’s new bill.

Begich, in supporting the bill, highlighted Japan’s push to import more gas.

“In addition to being a key strategic ally for our nation, Japan has been Alaska’s number one trading partner for decades. When I talk to members of the Japanese parliament or officials from Japanese utilities, concern for the security of their natural gas supply always comes up. The U.S. and Alaska have plenty of natural gas to sell to Japan and our NATO allies, and I can’t think of a better place to sell it than to our strategic and economic partners,” Begich said in a statement.

Japan is already the world’s largest LNG importer, and the 2011 nuclear disaster has further increased its need for outside energy supplies.

Almost all of Japan’s nuclear plants remain offline in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which led to meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The other initial sponsors of Barrasso's bill are Sens. John CornynJohn Cornyn Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks MORE (R-Texas), James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain Inhofe Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Overnight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal MORE (R-Okla.), Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley Enzi Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Trump cleaning house on border security Judd Gregg: In praise of Mike Enzi MORE (R-Wyo.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (D-N.D.), John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenOvernight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Officials, automakers aim to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US: report FCC claims on broadband access under scrutiny MORE (R-N.D.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report — Category 5 Mueller storm to hit today GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks MORE (R-Wis.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeDems sound alarm over top DOJ nominee Restore Pell Grant eligibility to people in prison Former Democratic aide pleads guilty to doxing GOP senators attending Kavanaugh hearing MORE (R-Utah) and David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBottom Line Bottom Line Top 5 races to watch in 2019 MORE (R-La.).