Policy: Environment & Energy

House Energy and Commerce to take up natural gas exports bill

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A House subcommittee plans to hold a March 25 hearing on Rep. Cory Gardner's bill to expedite natural gas exports, the Washington Examiner has learned, in a move that underscores increasing congressional pressure to take aim at Russia as the Ukrainian crisis escalates.

The House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee has pushed the Colorado Republican's bill as a tactic for weakening Russia's grip on energy supplies in Central and Eastern Europe.

News of the hearing comes after the Obama administration issued sanctions Monday against Russian and Ukrainian officials. But Republicans say the White House must look beyond those measures to hit Russia in the energy sector, from which it derives significant government revenue and geopolitical clout.

"It is going to take more than sanctions to stand up to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and taking action on exports would weaken his grip by sending a clear signal to our allies that they no longer have to be at the mercy of Russian energy supplies," Gardner said.

Gardner's bill would require the Energy Department to immediately approve all applications on file to build natural gas export terminals.

House Republicans have long criticized the pace of approvals coming from the Energy Department for export terminals to nations that lack free-trade status with the United States. The DOE must determine such exports to be in the public interest. It has given the green light to six projects, with 24 pending.

The bill would change that process for future natural gas export applications. All World Trade Organization members would be eligible for the less stringent review process for exports that is currently reserved for nations that have a free-trade agreement with the U.S.

The House looks poised to fast track the bill to the floor, not least because it would help Gardner in his Senate race against incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.

On top of that, the move is coming as Capitol Hill is growing increasingly vocal about the need to speed up natural gas exports in light of the situation in Ukraine. That has come as officials from several European nations, such as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have lobbied Congress for action on exports.

It's not that U.S. natural gas exports could assist Ukraine right now -- only one U.S. export terminal is slated to be ready before 2017 and Ukraine doesn't have a facility to convert it from its liquefied form. Plus, most U.S. natural gas is likely headed to Asia, where the price difference is greatest.

Some Democrats, including Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, have raised that point. And other Democrats have urged caution because they're concerned exporting too much natural gas would raise domestic prices, undercutting a competitive advantage for manufacturers.

But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pointing to Ukraine as a cautionary tale of what could happen if Russia's role as predominant energy supplier continues unabated.

"The world is hungry for America's natural gas," Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said last week at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

Added Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday: "We should be using [natural gas exports], and that's a long-term strategy we should be figuring out right now."

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