Tags: US | Ukraine | gas | exports

Menendez Rebuffs Bipartisan Push to Increase US Gas Exports

Thursday, 13 Mar 2014 10:55 PM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez blocked Wyoming Sen.  John Barrasso’s attempt on Wednesday to permit U.S. natural gas exports to European nations subject to Russian energy coercion, The Hill reported.

The New Jersey Democrat ruled out of order an amendment proposed by Barrasso to permit expedited approval of liquefied  natural gas exports to NATO members and Ukraine, saying it did not fall under the Foreign Relations panel’s jurisdiction.

Barrasso, a Republican, countered that his proposal was germane because Moscow was using energy to exercise pressure against Ukraine and Europe. Russia “has no problem using its energy sector to intimidate and to coerce other countries,” he said.

By making it easier to export liquefied natural gas, his amendment “would allow increased energy security among U.S. allies and reduce their need to purchase oil and gas from countries such as Russia and Iran,” Barrasso said.

As the Ukraine crisis has worsened in recent weeks, a succession of European officials seeking to reduce their countries’ dependence on Russian gas have come to Washington to lobby for easing restrictions on U.S. exports, Roll Call reported.

Ambassadors from numerous nations in Eastern Europe, including Greece, Bulgaria, and the Baltic states, have met with lawmakers to plead their case. Some of these countries (among them the Baltic nations) are 100 percent dependent on Russia for gas.

Russia has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to curb or cut off gas supplies during political disputes. The state-owned firm Gazprom last week threatened to cut off gas exports to Ukraine – as it did five years ago. In 2009, Moscow abruptly stopped supplying gas to more than a dozen European countries during a pricing dispute with Ukraine.

Ambassadors representing the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary, wrote House Speaker John Boehner last week to say that U.S. natural gas “would be much welcome in Central and Eastern Europe, and congressional action to expedite LNG exports to America’s allies would come at a critically important time for the region.”

They added that energy security “is not only a day-to-day issue for millions of citizens in our region, but it is one of the most important security challenges that America’s allies face in Central and Eastern Europe today.”

Numerous House and Senate Republicans have joined Barrasso in criticizing the Obama Administration for what they claim is its slow pace in approving natural-gas exports to countries that do not have a free-trade agreement with the United States. The Washington Examiner reported that the Energy Department has approved six such proposals while 24 more  are awaiting a decision.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee may act soon on legislation introduced by Colorado Republican Rep. Cory Gardner requiring that completed natural-gas export terminal applications  on file at the Energy Department be immediately approved.

 But at Wednesday’s Foreign Relations Committee meeting, Menendez and other Democrats pushed back, saying Ukraine currently lacks a suitable facility to handle gas imports and that only one U.S. export terminal will be completed by 2017. Others like Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois suggested that exporting more gas would mean higher prices for U.S. consumers.

But a growing number of Senate Democrats have indicated that they are amenable to increased exports. 

The Washington Examiner reported that Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Tom Udall of New Mexico have spoken favorably about the idea.

Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, who faces a stiff re-election challenge from Rep. Gardner, is another Democrat who has endorsed it.

“The ongoing crisis in Ukraine – and Russia’s threat to use its natural-gas exports as a cudgel there – shows why we need to responsibly develop our natural-gas reserves and expand our ability to export this resource abroad,” Udall said.

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