Accelerating LNG exports is lame-duck session priority, lawmakers say

Passing legislation aimed at accelerating US LNG exports is a priority in the 115th Congress’ lame-duck session that’s just getting under way, three federal lawmakers said on Nov. 15.

But they were not certain whether it would move as part of the Defense Authorization Act or a broader energy reform bill that a joint Senate-House conference began to consider before the fall recess, they indicated at a breakfast hosted by LNG Allies & Our Energy Moment.

“It’s critical that the conference gets the energy bill passed,” said US Sen. John A. Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who is expected to succeed James N. Inhofe (R-Okla.) as Environment and Public Works Committee chairman in January. “I think it has a better chance there because it has such strong bipartisan support and [US President Barack Obama] has said he would sign it. He has problems with parts of the defense bill, and may veto that.”

But two House members said it was uncertain whether the conference would reconvene. The House and Senate caucuses were scheduled to meet later in the morning and expected to set legislation schedules for the lame-duck session.

“I think this LNG legislation is critical to give our president-elect the leverage he needs,” said US Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), who introduced HR 351, which would establish a time limit for the US Department of Energy to decide whether a project’s LNG exports to a country without a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the US would be in the national interest, on Jan. 14, 2015. Barrasso introduced a similar bill, S. 33, on Jan. 6, 2015.

Across the finish line

“I can’t think of anything that promotes secure natural gas supplies worldwide better than for the US to get into the global LNG market in a big way,” Johnson said. “We believe the legislation should be there. It needs to get across the finish line. We have two opportunities and may give President Obama both of them.”

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), whose amendment adding a similar decision deadline for DOE deliberations on applications to export LNG to non-FTA countries became part of the House defense bill in the Armed Services Committee on Apr. 27, said it belongs there because gas has become a global security issue.

Russian gas supplier Gazprom lowered prices to Lithuania when the Baltic state built a floating LNG terminal, he told attendees at the breakfast. “That terminal—called Independence—now receives LNG from Norway, Finland, Qatar, and the UAE, but not from the US yet,” he said. “We should be prepared for better relations with Russia, but also intend to keep pushing for better security for our allies.”

Johnson said, “Who knows what the Trump administration will do that may be more far-reaching than what we’re attempting? All we’re trying to do is take the shackles off LNG exports and let the global market do its work.”

Several audience members were ambassadors from Washington embassies of seven Central and Eastern European countries who wrote US congressional leaders a day earlier asking for prompt passage of legislation to accelerate LNG export permit decisions at DOE (OGJ Online, Nov. 14, 2016).

An expanded US presence

“A lot of ties connect Lithuania and the US. I’m glad to see energy become another one of them,” said Rolandas Kirsciunas, that country’s ambassador to the US. “We expect you to make your own LNG export decision, but an expanded US presence on international markets would mean your country not only wants more business but also wants more global security.”

Meanwhile, Maciej Pisarski, deputy chief of mission at Poland’s embassy in Washington, said, “We see the prospect of working with the US to beef up Europe’s energy security as a great opportunity for the next administration. It will provide for more American engagement and presence to country aggressive moves by the Russian Federation. The most effective way to talk to them is from a position of strength.”

Peter Zelenak, deputy chief of mission at the Slovak Republic’s embassy, noted, “Our countries are a natural group on this matter. Two LNG terminals have been built, along with interconnectors which are so important to land-locked countries like ours. We’re also working on expanding storage. It’s not that we don’t want Russian gas; we just won’t want a Russian gas monopoly.”

Separately, the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas sent a letter to House and Senate energy leaders expressing support for moving forward with a conference committee agreement and the final passage of an energy bill that contains the provision to codify the timeline for DOE reviews of LNG export permits to non-FTA countries.

“As you know, this important provision has bipartisan support in both chambers and must, we believe, be a part of any final legislation,” CLNG Executive Director Charlie Riedl said. “We further urge conference committee negotiators to complete their work and bring the underlying bill containing the LNG exports provision to a vote before the end of the 114th Congress.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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