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POLITICS: PennAve

John Barrasso looks to tie natural gas exports to Ukraine relief bill

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Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., will attempt to tie a provision requiring the Energy Department to approve natural gas exports to NATO countries and Ukraine to the Ukrainian aid package being considered Tuesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Barrasso's move comes as Republicans, some Democrats and Central and Eastern European nations are calling on the Department of Energy to expedite decisions on natural gas exports to weaken Russia's grip on the region's energy supplies.

"As long as Ukraine and our NATO allies are overly dependent on Russian gas, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin will be able to hold them and their economies hostage. Congress should respond by giving Ukraine as well as our NATO allies an alternative supply of natural gas -- just as the ambassadors of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia called for on Thursday," Barrasso said Monday.

Officials from those nations wrote to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that the region depends on Russia for anywhere between 70 and 100 percent of its natural gas imports. Such reliance has allowed Russia to use its energy as a geopolitical and diplomatic tool, the officials said.

"[T]he region is more vulnerable to energy security risks than most of the European countries. It is not hard to see that energy security remains to be a critical aspect of the region's geostrategic stability and independence," the officials wrote.

Republicans have slammed the Obama administration for the pace of natural gas export approvals to nations that lack a free-trade agreement with the United States. The DOE, which must find such shipments to be in the public interest, has given the green light to six projects and has 24 waiting.

Still, the U.S. doesn't have any export terminals for sending natural gas to Europe, or anywhere else -- the earliest is scheduled to go online in 2015, with the next wave coming in 2017.

Even then, Ukraine doesn't have any facilities to convert natural gas from its liquefied, tanker-carried form into energy it can burn. And it likely won't be economical to buy from U.S. suppliers, experts have warned, noting that most of the nation's natural gas is likely heading to Asia because the cost spread is greatest.

But Republicans and export proponents in the business community say faster DOE approval would send a signal to Putin that his days of using energy as a diplomatic stick are numbered.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is looking to move legislation from Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., that would require immediate approval of completed applications for natural gas export terminals on file at the Energy Department. The committee's Republicans see the measure as a way to potentially buoy Central and Eastern Europe against Russian dominance of the region's energy market.

"By allowing more exports of [liquefied natural gas], not only are we going to create those new jobs, but we're going to ease the pressure on nations that have to be reliant on nations like Russia for their energy supplies," Gardner said on Fox Business Network's "Varney & Co."

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